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Hernando approves new gifted education plan

BROOKSVILLE — Gifted students in Hernando County will attend school next fall under a single roof, the School Board decided Tuesday.

By a 4-1 vote, the board approved plans to move all gifted instruction to a center at the new Explorer K-8 school in Spring Hill. That means students now receiving such services will move to the new program or do without them beginning in August.

"We have Einsteins in this county, we just haven't found them yet," said parent Cindy Hall, chairwoman of a board task force that recommended the plan. "Sometimes Einsteins are hidden, but we need to find places for them to grow."

Board members found little fault with the panel's central recommendation, that gifted children need their own full-time teachers with special training, and that the county has not done an adequate job of finding and serving such children.

Under state law, gifted children are treated as special-needs students and bring in about $2,100 each in extra funding. "Gifted" is defined as scoring at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score, and qualifying in at least one category on a state checklist or meeting other approved criteria.

That state money was seen as essential in funding a center for the 363 elementary and middle school students who may attend the center, which is projected to cost around $1.6-million. All told, the center could draw an additional $622,000 from next year's general fund, compared to current gifted spending.

Superintendent Wayne Alexander said he's fully behind the project, but urged the board to consider those numbers a "discussion piece" until student enrollment numbers are clear.

"My recommendation is to take a look at the kids who are in the program in August, and plan," he said.

Despite objections from some parents, most board members said the county couldn't afford to start a center and maintain gifted services in other schools, as other counties like Sarasota do.

Board member Dianne Bonfield registered the lone dissenting vote, saying the board should have surveyed parents on their interest in the program, or started slowly with just the middle grades next year. "I have a hard time seeing how this is best for all of our kids," she said.

But such concerns were largely drowned out by other members' enthusiasm. "I have to say we're finally moving in the right direction," said board member John Sweeney. "I don't think we can afford to hesitate at this point."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando approves new gifted education plan 04/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 25, 2008 12:47pm]

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