BROOKSVILLE — Families of gifted children were faced with a devilish choice last spring: Move their kids to Hernando County's first intensive, full-day program at Explorer K-8, or go without the extra services.
But overcrowding at Explorer may force the School Board to revisit that issue when it meets on March 23. And superintendent Wayne Alexander said it's possible the district may offer some gifted services in other schools next fall, in part to alleviate pressure at the school.
"(The board) is going to look at providing some services to the kids who decided to stay where they were," Alexander said Wednesday. "And they'll discuss the possibility of moving (the gifted program) to another school."
Last spring, the board was on the verge of putting the program into Challenger K-8, a Spring Hill magnet program that includes the county's largest proportion of children who are gifted.
But at the last minute, the board decided to put the program into the brand-new Explorer instead. Some parents of gifted children at Challenger and other schools chose to do without the extra services rather than move.
The change in locations brought a surprise at Explorer last fall, when 1,994 students showed up — 235 more than officials had expected. Some new families had moved into the school's neighborhood, and around 200 enrolled in the gifted academy.
Now the district is struggling to lower the school's enrollment to manageable levels for next fall. It has already run out of time to modify the school's zone and notify parents before summer vacation, said student services director James Knight.
"We're going to tell the board there's no way we can legally move (most) kids out of Explorer next year," he said.
But Alexander said it was possible to move entire programs — such as gifted services, the intensive special-needs unit, or the school's middle school component — to another location.
That will leave the School Board with a narrow range of options when it convenes March 23 to discuss the issue.
At least 42 students at the school don't live within Explorer's neighborhood around Northcliffe and Mariner boulevards. All will be notified that they must return to their zoned schools next fall, Knight said.
Another 15 or so might be reduced if the school is taken off the list of schools eligible for parent choice under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
That still leaves the school around 150 students larger than intended, while nearby elementary schools are underenrolled.
Some might leave voluntarily if the board allowed them to do so, Knight said. It could also allow families who left magnet schools for the gifted center to return to those magnet schools, reversing a decision made last spring.
But that gets perilously close to opening up the hot-button issues of gifted education and magnet admissions.
"If they want to have a gifted program at (magnet school) Challenger K-8 and let some kids stay at Challenger, that may help," Knight acknowledged, declining to say whether that would be a good idea. "I'm not touching that one."
Board member Pat Fagan, too, said he was not eager to return to the gifted question.
"At this point in time, I'm not too enthusiastic about it," he said. "But I am interested in looking at other schools that might be able to provide some gifted services."
Supporters of the gifted program say research favors an intensive, full-day approach to gifted education, rather than pulling students out of classes for extra services.
But Alexander said he believes some students are only gifted in certain areas and need a more individualized approach, which in some cases means pull-out services.
"You should have that full continuum of programs," he added.
Member Sandra Nicholson voiced concerns about duplicating costly gifted services at more than one school.
"I really don't know what I would support at this time," she added. "It's a mess."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.