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QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT GIFTED STUDENTS PROGRAM

The Hernando County School Board agreed Tuesday to bring all the district's gifted elementary and middle school students under one roof at Challenger K-8 in Spring Hill. Even though this decision is rushed, the plan has merit - but only if the board and superintendent Wayne Alexander find a better way to identify and serve the gifted students at other schools.

Of the district's 21,000 students, school officials have identified only 575 as gifted. Under the board's plan, almost all of the 370 students who are K-8 age will be bused to Challenger, a science and math magnet school, beginning in August. That low number suggests that some students who are gifted already are not being recognized.

If the teachers who specialize in gifted education are pulled from the neighborhood elementary and middle schools, and sent to Challenger, odds increase that even fewer gifted students will be identified.

The board has yet to decide if it will continue to offer gifted services in all or some of the county's other schools. Money may drive that decision because it would be costly to do both. It also might depend on how parents respond to inquiries from the district, which will begin very soon, according to Challenger principal Sue Stoops. Some parents may wish to leave their children in the schools they are in, but chances are a majority of parents will share the board's vision of a central gifted center.

In its zeal to congregate gifted students at one facility, the board must take great care not to neglect what most acknowledge as an inequitable process for identifying those special children. The substantial difference between the number of gifted students at different schools is just too great for there not to be a flaw in the system.

Clearly, a greater and more uniform effort is needed to correct that inexplicable discrepancy, and it should be a priority for superintendent Alexander as he implements this initiative, which could benefit from another year of planning. Board members might reconsider that before they take a final vote on this matter.

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