‘REACH-ing’ gifted young learners

Parents upset over

changes in program
By:Krzysztof Scibiorski
   The administration’s proposal to end separate instruction for gifted first-graders, switching to enriching general class activities instead, has angered some parents of students currently in the program.
   Almost 20 parents attended Monday night’s board meeting to hear and criticize the district’s plans for the Reach Explore Academic and Creative Heights (REACH) program for gifted and talented students.
   The plan, outlined by Dennis Copeland, district REACH supervisor until January when he was named vice principal at the middle school, would change the program from one providing gifted and talented classes for first-graders to offering some of the advanced lessons in all classes when the next school year begins.
   Currently, students identified as being higher achievers are taken from their regular classes and given special instruction separately for approximately 10 percent of their time at school, Mr. Copeland said.
   According to Mr. Copeland, there are currently six first-grade students and 36 second-grade students enrolled in the program.
   While the district wants to end the special instruction for first-graders, the pull-out program for the second-graders would be continued until the 2003-04 school year, when it also would be replaced with the enrichment program.
   Current REACH teachers would lead some periods in the normal classes and instruct classroom teachers in ways of engaging the gifted children, Mr. Copeland said.
   The administration’s proposal would revise the selection procedure for the REACH program, to one that would focus more on intelligence and cognitive testing in the second grade for all students. According to Mr. Copeland the current process of identifying students to be tested for the program rests with the kindergarden teachers.
   Parents criticized the district’s handling of the changes and the lack of communication about the proposals.
   "We are, in fact, taking away the gifted and talented program," said Mike Auerbach, the president of the Gifted and Talented Home and School Association. "I am absolutely outraged by the lack of communication with the REACH community. There are no incremental resources spent on the first-year program, so what are we saving here?"
   According to Mr. Auerbach, the first-grade REACH students are co-opted into existing second-grade classes.
   "This is not about allocating our resources," Schools Superintendent Robert Gulick said. "Not one of our elementary school principals is confident that we have the ability to identify truly gifted students at the end of kindergarten. The principals agree that it is unnecessary and scientifically difficult to determine who the truly gifted students are at that age."
   Several parents said that the REACH program has the highest impact on their children, who are often bored during class instruction.
   "We don’t believe that there are bored children in the classroom," Mr. Copeland told board member Lou Possemato, who voiced similar concerns.
   Mr. Auerbach charged the district’s proposal is in violation of state code that requires the identification of gifted students in grades K-12 and providing "appropriate instructional adaptations and services."
   "I don’t believe that we are in violation of state code," said Virginia Gittelman, the assistant superintendent of schools. Dr. Gittelman said that the enforcement of the code is in the hands of the county educational authorities which have reviewed the district’s plans and not voiced objections to it. Board member Joan Sheridan asked the administrators to ask the board’s attorney if the proposed arrangements are in agreement with state code.
   According to Dr. Gulick, time remains for the current program to be continued, if the board decides not to approve the current version of the REACH program plan at the May regular meeting.