CHAMPAIGN – Champaign schools Superintendent Arthur Culver said the proposed establishment of magnet schools doesn't necessarily mean gifted education will be discontinued at Champaign schools.
"We're not going to cut gifted education," Culver said. "There may be some changes in the delivery of services, but I haven't heard anyone talking about eradicating the gifted program."
Culver spoke to more than 50 parents Thursday night at a forum on gifted education.
The district has applied for a federal magnet school grant that would provide $5.5 million over three years for curriculum materials, teacher training, enrichment activities and other things to put magnet school programs into place at Garden Hills, Washington and Stratton elementary schools.
The school district tests all first-graders and uses the test to admit students into its self-contained gifted classrooms. Those classrooms are at Garden Hills, Washington, Stratton and Dr. Howard elementary schools.
While the grant program does not prohibit testing to admit students to programs, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Beth Shepperd said the competitive awarding process favors school districts that eliminate testing.
Shepperd said Champaign has chosen to get rid of testing to admit students – if it is awarded the grant – to maximize the chances of getting the $5.5 million.
"The winning grants are separated by one point," Shepperd said. "It is the difference between getting the grant or not."
Culver said the magnet program and any possible changes to the gifted program would not begin until the 2011-12 school year.
"We have a full year to figure out how to do this," Culver said.
Shepperd said the curriculum will be so rigorous at the magnet schools that the gifted students will want to be a part of the program.
The district would eliminate the self-contained classrooms in the magnet schools if the district receives the grant, said Suzanne Gibbons, director of elementary education and gifted services. It would phase them out, and all students enrolled in self-contained gifted classrooms now would continue in those programs through fifth grade.
Parent Tina Childress said she has some concerns about the program.
"I'm worried about how the gifted program is going to be integrated within the district," Childress said.
"I want to see something that is good for all the kids and reflects the interests of the community, not just small subsets," said parent Chuck Jackson.
Parent Jennifer Simmons said she would like to see more equality of programs among the schools.
"My kids are at Dr. Howard School, one that is not being rebuilt or renovated," Simmons said. "If we will no longer have a gifted program, that's one less thing for them to look forward to."