The most obvious benefit of a Pinellas County plan to place a gifted teacher in all 72 elementary schools is that bright students will be in class learning instead of wasting time being bused to learning centers. But superintendent Mike Grego's redirection of resources starting next fall also should provide more enrichment for children in high-poverty schools. There are some risks in the change, but the potential benefits appear far greater.
Currently, 29 of the county's elementary schools don't have a gifted instructor, so qualified students are bused to 11 centers weekly. Putting a full- or part-time teacher in each school will have a net cost of $610,000.
The expansion is also billed as a boost to the new Talent Development Programs at 34 district schools with a high percentage of free and reduced-price lunch recipients. Gifted teachers in those schools will run enrichment programs for the broader student body. That should improve the appeal of neighborhood schools not only for students and parents, but for staff. And it signals that excellence is worth the investment.
The risk is that the system could isolate some gifted students who will no longer have a chance to leave campus to learn with a community of bright children. Some schools' success rates are so low there may only be one or two gifted students per grade. On the 2013 FCAT test, for example, only 7 percent of Campbell Park's third-grade students and 4 percent of Fairmount Park's tested at grade level in math. But the district promises the plan is flexible enough to use multigrade groups and other strategies. It also plans to bring students from neighboring schools together for joint events.
There is more to discuss about gifted programs, particularly socioeconomic divides that mean poor students with fewer opportunities for enrichment are less likely to achieve the scores necessary for admission. But the new strategy could increase the odds that more talented students are identified and challenged. That is in everyone's interest.