Parents and some board members at Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 had negative reactions to a report from a committee that has been studying advanced learning in the district for the past three years.
The committee's recommendations, presented to the board on Thursday by Dale Truding, assistant superintendent for student learning, include eliminating the district's gifted program, Odyssey, after the 2013-14 school year.
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Several parents of students in the Odyssey program spoke out against this suggestion.
"I was very shocked and dismayed that the recommendation is to eliminate the gifted program," parent Renee Lubbe said.
Lubbe asked the board members to attend the four planned question-and-answer sessions set up next week to hear more stories from parents about how important the program is to students.
"It's heartbreaking that the district would even consider cutting the program," parent Tina Pell-Doyle said. Pell-Doyle said her daughter is not challenged in the regular classroom and doesn't receive enough direction, but on days when she has Odyssey, she can't wait to go to school.
"I don't even know what I would say to her if it wasn't there," she said.
Students currently in the Odyssey program would have individual meetings for goal-setting and transition out of the program, if the board approves ending it.
The program review was started in 2010 with an external evaluation from a gifted education expert from the University of Virginia, which found that the district did not have a real definition of "gifted" or a consistent way of identifying students for Odyssey. Teachers and administrators have been researching best practices during the past two years before Thursday's report.
Under the new recommendations, students would not be pulled out of the classroom for advanced classes but would receive differentiated instruction from their regular teacher, something board member Phil Crusius said he was concerned about because one teacher would be catering to so many different levels of students at the same time.
"It is hard, and it has always been hard, to meet the needs of every child in a classroom," Truding said. "But students deserve to have their needs met and be challenged six hours of the day at school."
Truding added that with the implementation of Common Core standards, all students would be receiving a more rigorous education.
The committee also recommended that classes start to integrate a PSI Hour to focus on problem-solving and innovation skills for all students in the classroom. Truding said the PSI hour is a way to foster student creativity and questioning in areas where they show an interest.
Board member Rich Olejniczak had several tough questions for Truding and said he thought the recommendations were too much change to a program that seems to be working.
Board member Denise Glasgow said she was struggling with the decision. Glasgow had two children go through the Odyssey program but also was a part of the committee and saw research that proved there may be a better way to educate students.
Administrators will take questions on the report at 7 p.m. May 21 at Thomas Middle School, 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. May 22 at Dunton Administrative Center and 7 p.m. May 23 at South Middle School.
The report can also be read on the District 25 website, www.sd25.org.