After rejecting suggestions — including one from this newspaper in December — to establish a pilot program for a single-site gifted education center at the new Explorer K-8, the Hernando County School Board is finding that its decision to mandate an all-or-nothing program is little more than that: a pilot program only half of the qualified students may attend.
The board's haste is curious, costly and cannot be overlooked by parents whose gifted students are being limited academically because they choose to stay in the schools where they have thrived.
The School Board and superintendent Wayne Alexander have failed to get the necessary buy-in from a majority of parents of gifted students in order to make a gradual and successful transition to this worthy program. So far, only about half of the eligible 383 elementary- and middle-school-aged children have enrolled in the gifted program at Explorer. The approximately 188 who have not enrolled at Explorer will remain, for various practical and personal reasons, at the schools where they have previously enjoyed distinctive instruction from qualified teachers. It is perfectly understandable that parents and students are leery of what amounts to a forced experiment.
Meanwhile, some teachers who were assigned to teach the gifted curriculum at Explorer K-8 now will be reassigned to neighborhood and magnet schools, where they will be reunited with the gifted students who stayed behind, but will not be able to ply their specialized expertise. That is a waste of talents.
On top of this, the move to a single-site gifted school is likely to cost taxpayers between $700,000 and $900,000 more this year, due partly to the lack of interest from gifted students, each of whom equates to a $2,100 payment from the state because they are categorized as "special needs."
To be sure, the shift toward a single-site gifted program has merit.
There is little doubt it will raise the bar for those students and create a learning environment that is unprecedented in Hernando County. So, the School Board's policy journey on this matter is less of an issue than the path it has chosen to reach its destination.
Board member Jim Malcolm, who is looking to retire when he completes his 16th year on the board in November, has been a longtime supporter of improving the gifted education program, which he has repeatedly referred to as "dismal." In the past year, his passion for that objective has been obvious as he prodded his colleagues and the superintendent toward expediting a single-site gifted center.
But this important undertaking has been undermined by zeal and haste. It may be too late for the board and the superintendent to retreat from the current plan, but they certainly can do a better job of trying to either win over those who do not share their vision, or to find a way to accommodate the students whose parents have justifiable questions about its suitability.