For years, national education reform has focused almost entirely on improving the performance of the classrooms' poorest students. Now, to their credit, Pinellas County school officials are also turning attention to the district's brightest students by establishing a trio of magnet programs for gifted children.
The full-time programs will begin this fall at Dunedin Middle, Morgan Fitzgerald Middle and Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle.
Students applying must meet all state requirements for gifted placement and have a current gifted education plan. Officials say the curriculum will be rigorous and interdisciplinary and will promote, among other benefits, creativity, critical thinking and investigation.
Gifted students will attend exclusive classes in core subjects of math, science, social studies and language arts. Electives will include advance academic courses such as prealgebra. Independent study will encourage service learning and competitions. And general education courses will include band, orchestra, art, drama, technology and world language. Because the centers are part of the magnet program, students will be able to ride buses on limited routes on main roads.
Teachers in the program will be required to demonstrate competencies and skills that will challenge their gifted charges and be certified in their subject areas or have a plan for being certified within two years.
The only downside: The district will only open the centers to incoming sixth-graders this first year. The seventh and eighth grades will be added the following two years. But the plan goes a long way toward addressing a problem identified in a 2006 St. Petersburg Times poll of area teachers. More than half said they were ill-serving their gifted students because they had to focus on their lower-performing students. More than 70 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools said the same thing.
While the district must still focus on helping lower-achieving students, gifted students also deserve to be challenged and offered opportunities to reach their full potential. As Thurgood Marshall principal Dallas Jackson said, "Intellectually talented students are not disappearing. They're still growing."