Gifted-talented pilot program wins endorsement from New London school board

New London - Board of Education members on Thursday endorsed a two-year pilot program for the district's gifted and talented upper elementary school students in collaboration with the University of Connecticut's National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

As part of the board's workshop discussion on the Strategic Operating Plan - a three-year turnaround plan created with the overarching goal of improving student achievement - six board members agreed to establish the pilot program this fall.

Board member Barbara Major was absent.

"I would like to see this as a pilot for two years at least. I feel a pilot would be best," member Elizabeth Garcia Gonzalez said.

The pilot program would be similar to the Renzulli Academy the school board decided last month not to create in New London, in part because members said they did not have enough information to make an informed decision.

Rejecting implementation of the academy meant passing up its one-third share of a $500,000 grant that would have provided training for the district's teachers in gifted and talented education.

But board Chairwoman Margaret Curtin said Thursday that she met with Renzulli Academy founder Joseph Renzulli, who is also a professor at UConn's Neag School of Education and is director of The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, and said he did not object to New London beginning a gifted and talented program as a pilot.

If the board approves the pilot program, the district would still receive a portion of the grant money to train its teachers in gifted and talented education, Curtin said.

She said she and the board are not against gifted and talented education but that she would like to see "something innovative" instead of a program following the same path as Renzulli Academy.

The pilot program would create classes for gifted and talented fourth- to sixth-graders at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, with the possibility of serving a second group of fifth- and sixth-graders in a dual-language program at Jennings Elementary School.

Unlike Renzulli Academy, which would have had its own governing body, the pilot program would be overseen by the New London Board of Education.

Board members said Thursday that although there was consensus for the pilot program for gifted and talented students at the workshop, there is still a possibility that the board could vote against that element of the Strategic Operating Plan. The board needs to approve the plan at its June 27 meeting in order to meet a July 1 deadline set by the State Board of Education.

Board member Delanna Muse said she still wants more information.

"We've been talking about this for months. Still, we have not been presented with a written plan. Yes, we have been talking about this. We've been asking, but we haven't received anything in writing. To me it seems like it's verbatim of the process. ... I'm not against providing services for gifted and talented, but we need to have a written plan," Muse said.

Steven Adamowksi, the special master appointed by the state Department of Education to oversee the New London school district's operations, was not at the meeting but checked in by telephone. He asked how the district would pay for a gifted and talented program should it choose to continue it beyond the pilot phase.

j.hanckel@theday.com

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