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  1. The Education Gradebook

Parents flock to hear about Hillsborough's first full-time gifted center, now taking applications

RIVERVIEW — When Melissa Snively, mother of a son in the gifted program at FishHawk Creek Elementary School, won a seat on the Hillsborough County School Board in 2014, one of the first ideas she championed involved creating a full-time elementary school program for gifted students.

With more than 1,500 children from kindergarten through Grade 5 enrolled in gifted classes several periods a day in the SouthShore public schools, Snively said it made sense.

The idea becomes a reality this fall during the 2016-2017 school year when the Center for Gifted Studies officially opens in available space at Boyette Springs Elementary School.

Snively said extensive research indicated the program is cost effective and worthy.

"There are a lot of gifted students in our elementary schools, so it made sense to research and see if it was even a possibility," Snively said. "It's not a magnet program, so the cost differential is very different. There's no transportation cost like a magnet. We wanted to keep the cost low being an initial first-year program.

"If we get students who are homeschooled, from charter, magnet, private or virtual schools, that's fine," she added, "because it's really just about fulfilling the needs of all students."

The application period for the "school choice attractor program" began Jan. 5 and runs through Jan. 31. On the first day of the process, the district received more than 50 applications and capacity is around 200 students.

Choice program representatives and Boyette Springs administration hosted an informational meeting Jan. 7 in the school's multipurpose room, drawing a standing room only crowd of parents, grandparents, family members and students.

"I always plan for the big, and thank goodness we did, because we got the big," said Boyette Springs principal Tamethea Simmons. "We've always needed something in south county because not everyone wants to drive to Tampa for a choice. So, to have this piece in our area means a great deal for our students, staff and community."

Lauri Kirsch, the district's K-12 gifted programs supervisor, told parents that students enrolled at the center will receive daily classroom instruction from gifted-endorsed teachers in all core academic subjects — math, science, English language arts, and social studies — within a group of gifted peers. Students will have access to hands-on technology in the form of iPads available to them throughout the day to enhance their instruction.

They'll also have an opportunity to interact with other students enrolled at Boyette Springs through enrichment clusters, where every child in the school can take a class together on a series of selected topics of interest.

To be eligible for the center, students must meet one of the following criteria by the Jan. 31 application deadline to be entered into a computer selection process: currently possess a Florida Gifted Educational Plan, a copy of a psychological report with a qualifying IQ score, or a referral for an initial gifted evaluation screening.

Like other choice programs in the district, the selection process is conducted through a random but equalized lottery where each student is given one ticket. Students at Boyette Springs or any student currently taking gifted classes will not be given preferential treatment.

"We're running this lottery identical to how we run the lottery for our other Choice programs," said student planning and placement director Matthew Romano. "We want it to be as fair as possible."

The lottery process caused concern among some parents, with one suggesting the lottery should be based on IQ and another saying students already enrolled at Boyette Springs should receive priority.

However, Riverview parent Jaime Rolle said she's excited by the possibility of having her daughter, K'mya, who attends Collins Elementary School, in a full-day gifted program.

"I don't have to worry about her leaving her regular class and going to gifted," Rolle said. "Same set of kids, same teachers, everything together all day so she's getting all she needs without going back and forth."

Contact Kathryn Moschella at hillsnews@tampbay.com.

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