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In Hernando County schools, closer look finds additional gifted students

BROOKSVILLE — Turns out there really were more gifted children in Hernando County.

Last spring, the school district identified 383 elementary and middle school students who met the state's criteria of giftedness among its 23,000 students. But most were located in magnet programs, with some schools listing only a handful, and officials said they needed to look harder.

Since August, the district has found about 100 additional students who meet the state criteria, said Cathy Dofka, director of exceptional student education. Under state guidelines, "gifted" means scoring at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ and qualifying in at least one category on a Department of Education checklist.

When the Hernando County School Board meets on Monday and at an April 21 workshop, it will begin grappling with the question of what to do about it.

"I know there are 199 students that are sitting out there that aren't being served this minute," Dofka said.

Some of them left the new Quest Academy gifted center at Explorer K-8 School during the school year for a variety of reasons, including transportation or family preferences, Dofka said. New arrivals have helped keep the center's enrollment between 230 and 250.

Other families of gifted children chose to do without the extra enrichment last year, after the School Board decided to close programs based at a handful of other schools including Chocachatti Elementary and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics.

But officials now say they're open to the idea of restarting some form of gifted education at other schools.

"We're leaving the full-time program (running), but there's also kids out there we want to give more opportunities to," Dofka said.

Just what those new programs would look like is unclear.

And advocates of gifted education in the county say they'll fight any effort that dilutes the Explorer program.

"The teachers are very happy," said Cindy Gustafson, founder of a gifted education support group. "And parents are thrilled with the academics, the ones I've spoken to."

She said the district shouldn't reinstate services in schools that previously failed, in her view, to meet children's needs or state requirements.

But she voiced support for the district's effort to create new programs in addition to Quest.

"I feel confident those options are going to be quality, they're going to be thoughtful," she said.

Former School Board member Jim Malcolm, who serves on a gifted advisory board, said he doesn't see how the district can do an effective job supporting both a full-time center and part-time services in the schools.

But he said the district owes it to its children to try.

"Obviously the ultimate goal is to provide as many services as one can to the gifted population," Malcolm added.

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

In Hernando County schools, closer look finds additional gifted students 03/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 16, 2009 8:11pm]
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