The decision to consolidate gifted education for elementary and middle school students in St. Clair County to the Eden Career Technical Center in Ashville has some parents in Springville concerned.
At Monday’s BOE meeting, the board approved Leann Ford to be the system-wide gifted teacher at ECTC. Middle school students who classify as “gifted” — who opt to participate in the program — will bus from their individual schools one day per week. Steele, Ashville and Ragland will send 3rd-5th grade students, as well.
Several Springville parents brought their concerns to Monday’s Board of Education meeting, and two of them addressed the board.
Wendy Cornett has a daughter who attends the gifted program at Springville Elementary School.
“Part of my concern is will the change end up creating a drop in gifted enrollment,” Cornett said. “Gifted kids do think differently, and they’re wired a little differently. They do a lot of thinking ‘outside the box.’”
Cornett said many of the concerns center around the additional risks with transport, the loss of instructional time and the presence of older vocational students at Eden Career Tech.
“We have a gifted program that’s working,” Cornett said. “For us to make a decision to consolidate feels like we are having something taken away. That’s why you have been hearing all the reaction, especially from the elementary school parents.
“We really like what our kids are getting at Springville Elementary School, so we do not see the added benefit.”
Cornett said she would like to see more parent collaboration.
“I think that is one of the biggest, biggest beefs some of the parents in this room are sharing, and that is there was not enough parent collaboration,” she said. “Parents are really not here to fight or to be adversarial about it. Our concerns are not going to go away if they are not addressed from the front end. They are going to result in meetings.
“I hope we can get more of a spirit of mutual trust where parents can be brought into the decision process and bring something helpful to the table.”
Cornett concluded by saying she wanted to make her and the other parents’ decision abundantly clear.
“This is not something we want for Springville Elementary,” Cornett said. “I don’t want to speak for the other schools, but we want to have our voice heard.”
Melanie Bailey — who has a gifted student at Springville Middle School — also addressed the BOE.
“We are here to ask that you consider the parents’ opinions from the middle school,” Bailey said. “From a middle school perspective, we have space in our school available today. There is not a need to transport those kids to Ashville for the services.
“We have a teacher at the middle school who is willing to service those children. We just don’t want our kids traveling to Ashville. We would like for you to consider an alternate solution for the middle school at Springville.”
Members of the BOE commended the two parents with the spirit in which their concerns were presented to the board.
“This has all generated a great deal of discussion,” BOE president Scott Suttle said. “I know a lot of questions were asked last week at our work session, and some of them have been addressed.”
BOE member Marie Manning thanked the Springville parents because it is very encouraging when parents are interested in what their children are doing.
“It is very encouraging when the parents present in a way that we understand that you want what is best for the children,” Manning said. “It is the position of a board member to say that we want our gifted student to be provided even more.
“I would hope that some day, this would lead into a magnet program for St. Clair County. I think we are lacking in that area, and I want to see that happen. I hope this will lead us in that direction.
“As a board member, I do hear what you have to say. It is our responsibility to say this is what we want. It is also our responsibility to listen to our administrators when they have researched the issue and have come back to us with some recommendation. And it this case, it is a pilot program.”
Board member John Degaris said the two parents who addressed the board were very professional, and he appreciated it very much. Board member Angie Cobb said it is very refreshing to see parents who are very passionate about their children.
“A lot can get done when you come together in a professional way,” Cobb said. “We are all in this together.
“The students of St. Clair County are all our responsibility. I appreciate the sense of camaraderie, and I really do appreciate that.”
Recently, parents and gifted students attended an open house at the classroom at ECTC, to see firsthand how the program was going to work.
“I am excited about the new gifted program for 6th-8th graders in the St. Clair County School System,” Ford said. “Very few systems in the state offer services to 7th and 8th graders. I have enjoyed meeting the students and sharing in their excitement.”
Ford said middle school gifted students in St. Clair County have not been receiving direct gifted education services.
“They have been receiving indirect services via differentiated curriculum in the regular education classroom,” Ford said. “The county began to evaluate our service delivery model, and began looking at ways to improve services for gifted education students.
“We have been and continue to be in regular contact with Nancy Johnson with the ALSDE Gifted Education Department. The system invited Mrs. Johnson to come into our system, and spend a day with us to evaluate our program; look at our gifted education student numbers; look at the geographical size of our system; etc. Mrs. Johnson made recommendations based on her observations and conversations with employees of the St. Clair County School System. Her recommendation was and continues to be that we establish a gifted education center to provide services to gifted education students in this system.”
Ford said the school bus for gifted students will drop the students at the door to the gifted center.
“The teachers will meet the students at the door and will remain with them until the students have loaded the bus to return to their schools,” Ford said. “The gifted center has its own restroom and will have its own snack machines. The gifted students will not be interacting with the Eden Career Technical students in any way.”
Another concern is the cost to bus the students to ECTC. Ford said there are about 450 gifted students in grades 3-8 in St. Clair County.
“There are 12 elementary and middle schools located across the system,” she said. “The cost of hiring two additional gifted specialists would be about $60,000 per teacher for a first year Bachelor’s degree teacher including salary and benefits.
“All gifted teachers would be required to travel, which would require reimbursement of 56.5 cents per mile. Hiring bus drivers part time and paying fuel costs to transport students appears to be more cost effective than two additional teacher units and all gifted teachers being required to travel to meet the needs of all 450 identified gifted 3rd-8th graders. Our system will not hire any bus driver who does not have the required CDL license.
“The St. Clair County Policy Manual states that teachers are required to ride the bus on a field trip. These gifted services are not considered a field trip.”