Letter to GCS BOE

Letter to the Guilford County Schools Board of Education


May 15, 2016

Dear Board of Education Member:

We are writing you on behalf of Guilford County PAGE (Partners for the Advancement of Gifted Education) (www.guilfordcountypage.org), an educational non-profit representing thousands of gifted students, parents, educators, and others in Guilford County. An affiliate of the North Carolina Association for the Gifted & Talented (NCAGT), we are the largest PAGE organization in the state, and the recipient of the 2015 PAGE Chapter of the Year Award.

The purpose of our letter is to formally introduce our organization, to show our support for K – 12 Academically Gifted (AG) services in Guilford County Schools (GCS), and to specifically inquire how the new American Reading Company (ARC) balanced literacy program may affect ELA services rendered to AG students.

Today, the GCS AG Department, its educators, and the county’s current programs and resources are positively impacting thousands of students across the county, including Mackenzie Wheeless, who received NCAGT’s prestigious 2016 student leadership award. As well, NCAGT has taken note of our county’s gifted education leadership – our AG program administrator was a finalist for their 2015 AIG Administrator of the Year Award, and she now serves on the NCAGT board.

For a state like North Carolina, which is one of 32 states in the country legally mandating differentiated education for gifted students, GCS is considered a standout. Among the state’s largest school districts, GCS is known for its vigilance in casting a wide, inclusive net to identify gifted students, and for delivering quality gifted programming that truly makes a difference (e.g., elementary ELA and math “pullout” enrichment programs, middle school advanced math and ELA courses, and honors, AP and IB programs in high school). Our hope is to continue this path forward to create even more opportunities for gifted students to achieve growth.

As the National Association of Gifted Children asserts, “Gifted and talented students and those with high abilities need gifted education programs that will challenge them in regular classroom settings and enrichment and accelerated programs to enable them to make continuous progress in school.” Consequently, although gifted learners possess higher levels of intelligence than their peers, they can be disadvantaged when they are not given the appropriate opportunities to reach their full potential (Farmer, 1993). Gifted children have special learning needs, which if not met, can lead to frustration, a loss of self-esteem, boredom and underachievement (Crocker, 2004; after Knight & Becker (2000)).

However, when gifted learners are appropriately challenged and engaged – with initiatives like GCS’ current AG program – they have opportunities to achieve their potential.

Recently, we were heartened to receive more than one hundred nominations from GCS parents and students as part of our May Teacher Appreciation Contest, which honors educators who have made a difference to an AG student. Because these nominations vividly bring to life the positive impact of GCS’ AG programs, we are including a sampling of them as an enclosure. As one parent reports “…the one day a week when she has AG is my daughter’s favorite part of school….”

Guilford County PAGE believes GCS has much to offer our gifted students, and while we welcome enhancements, we have recently become aware of a new county-wide ARC balanced literacy program that gives us pause. In the spirit of thoughtful due diligence, we are sharing our observations and questions regarding the program:

  • AG Impact: What will be the impact of the ARC program on the current AG program? AG programs include elementary “pullout” enrichment beginning in third grade and advanced middle and high school courses. Current programs are very successful and have been well-received among the AG population.
  • Appropriateness: On its website, ARC says its balanced literacy program is a “…systematic approach to ensure that every student can read, write and think on grade level.” Since their program was not created for gifted learners, many of whom are significantly above grade level, how does this program specifically address the needs of gifted learners? If it does not, will the AG program be able to continue with its current offerings, or will an alternative be made available?
  • Proven Success: What school systems have successfully implemented ARC’s complete balanced literacy program with gifted student populations? What were the outcomes with gifted learners? What research studies are available?
  • Program Evaluation: A county-wide rollout for ARC is proposed to begin in fall 2016. However, we understand this program was not required to be formally evaluated in a way that reflects generally accepted best practices. Why weren’t formal pilot studies (among a representative sample), teacher panels, or other similar evaluations undertaken to ensure the efficacy of the program within our school system and for all student populations, including the AG population?
  • Tiered Rollout: Based on GCS’ experience with the PACE tablet rollout, wouldn’t it be prudent to implement the ARC program at a few pilot schools per region the first year? This would provide time to evaluate the program, address any issues, and make modifications, if needed.
  • Rigor: Because the program’s core reading materials and instruction may reflect a limited reading level range per school, how will appropriately rigorous learning be incorporated into the program to meet the needs of advanced readers, some of whom are reading at a college level?
  • Modification: (How) will the ARC program be modified or tailored to meet the needs of gifted students in both traditional public school and very gifted public school settings (e.g., Academy at Lincoln, Brown Summit Middle School, Early College, etc.)? What opportunities exist to appropriately adapt pacing and instructional materials and methods for gifted learners?
  • Sustainability and Growth: Has GCS considered the potential student experience of this program, especially over many years? Will the “sameness” of the ARC program from elementary to high school – potentially for 13 years – inadvertently lead to student disengagement after the initial “honeymoon” period? What are the long-term student outcomes for the program and for students? Finally, particularly for advanced readers, what is the consequence of having access to core books that are either consistently below level or do not offer enough challenge to permit adequate growth?

On behalf of Guilford County’s gifted students, Guilford County PAGE believes GCS’ current model for gifted education is truly making a difference in the lives of the students across the county. While we appreciate the many complex challenges our public school system faces, the more than 14,000 gifted students in Guilford County’s public schools deserve to be considered as part of the county’s plan.

Like you, we believe every child deserves to be challenged. We fully concur with the GCS annual report: “As public schools, we advance and challenge each child. We meet them where they are, and we help them develop into well-rounded graduates ready to succeed in college, career, and life.” If we hope to see the annual, expected academic growth from AG students, we believe GCS should pursue more targeted instruction for these students rather than less.

In closing, we look forward to your reply and continuing the conversation. We’ve included our contact information below for your convenience. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best Regards,
Holly Stewart Signature

Holly Stewart, M.A., M.B.A., President
holly@guilfordcountypage.org or 336.558.9696

Michelle Himmelman, M.Ed., Vice President
michelle@guilfordcountypage.org or 336.210.4573

Jessica Hortman, M.Ed., Advocacy Chair
jessica@guilfordcountypage.org or 912.308.2232

Katherine Humphreys, Ph.D., AG Program Liaison
katherine@guilfordcountypage.org or 336.540.0618


CC: Wes Guthrie, NCAGT Executive Director; Dibrelle Tourret, GCS AG Director
Encl.: PAGE Teacher Appreciation Excerpts 05 13 2016_FINAL