Payson Unified School District should make improving programs for gifted students a top priority, the school board agreed recently after hearing a pitch from a newly organized parents group.
Parents appealed to the board for support, saying they often have a hard time convincing principals at individual school sites to make coming up with challenging and creative classes for the most advanced students a priority.
“Everyone is very excited when they see what can be done. Unfortunately, school administrators don’t always support the program,” said Laurel Walla, head of the the Payson Association for Advanced Learners (PAAL).
The roughly 100 parents in the group have raised about $60,000 to support school programs in the past year.
Walla said at one time when she pressed a school site administrator to offer more challenging electives for her daughter, the administrator “said she should take cooking class, because every young lady should be able to cook. What we really want to see are things like the engineering program. But the gifted kids are just an afterthought.”
Veronica Volk, whose child attends elementary school, said “I haven’t seen any big gifted program. I haven’t seen anything at all.”
She said that the school her child attended in Phoenix had an active program in the elementary school, with pullout classes three times a week.
She said although her son eventually tested as “gifted” in several areas, he also suffered from attention deficit disorder and often had a hard time sitting still and paying attention in conventional classrooms. “He just wants to learn more and more and more. But every day it’s a battle to get him to school. He says, ‘I’m bored, mom.’ Kindergarten was a nightmare. We have to worry about it every day because he’s not challenged. They have spaghetti brains and they jump from one subject to another. We don’t want to move, so please just implement this.”
School board members expressed strong support for improving gifted and talented education and expressed surprise that school site administrators have sometimes seemed lukewarm. The board directed Superintendent Casey O’Brien to come up with goals to support the effort, which the board will consider during a retreat this summer.
“I’m 100 percent behind you guys,” said board member Rory Huff.
Board member Kim Pound said “I just hate to think that you’re getting any resistance” from administrators.”
Walla added, “many do not see the value of it. These are the good kids that aren’t causing any trouble. They don’t want to track these kids, they don’t want to put them in separate classes, don’t even believe that ‘gifted’ kids exist.”
The parents urged the district to administer tests in the second grade and fifth grade to identify students who qualify for gifted and talented programs. Right now, the district only administers the test if a parent or a teacher makes a request. About 200 students in the district are categorized as “gifted and talented,” based on nationally applied tests.