The Burbank Unified Board of Education and administration officials discussed the district’s Gifted And Talented Education (GATE) program at Thursday evening’s Board of Education meeting. Several parents spoke up in support of continued growth of the BUSD GATE program.
Dr. Tom Kissinger, Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services, presented a report on the program. He outlined elements of the 2014-15 GATE plan that includes professional development on differentiated instruction for elementary and middle school teachers funded by the LCAP.
Pull-out day programs for fourth, fifth and sixth-graders, similar to the Shakespeare Exploration GATE event held in May, continue to be held along with monthly GATE Parent Advisory Council meetings. He also highlighted plans for the 2015-16 BUSD GATE program.
Kissinger also noted testing and graduation rates of GATE students compared to the entire student population.
In years past, funding for the BUSD GATE program was limited to testing and identifying GATE students, without additional enrichment or support for those students, besides clustering the students in elementary and middle school classes. There were minimal expectations for GATE teacher training and few, if any, district events for GATE students, according to Kissinger.
GATE students in middle school were put into GATE-only science, social studies and English classes. They also could take advanced math classes such as Algebra I and Geometry, along with other high-scoring math students who were not GATE-identified. In high school, however, GATE students retain identification but take classes based on interest and ability. Many do take honors and AP courses, Kissinger noted.
With the advent of 11 curriculum specialists at each elementary school who also serve as GATE coordinators, the GATE program can now provide on-site enrichment for identified students. Some schools are already doing this during weekly “power-hour” or specialized reading classes.
Three middle school assistant principals also administer the GATE program at their respective schools.
Kissinger said that “a lot more involvement in parent advocacy” and that the school has a “much greater emphasis on providing higher level work that gets at the analysis of material and critical thinking skills” has propelled GATE program growth.
“Studies show that gifted children that are not supported often hit academic roadblocks in middle school and beyond,” commented Colleen Matlock, parent of a fifth-grade GATE student. “Not providing gifted children with the stimulation they need can have serious consequences besides just not meeting their potential. They can have poor social and emotional adjustment and develop anxiety and depression.”
Parent Caroline Solberg noted that at her son’s elementary school, there are programs with dedicated teachers, assistants and classrooms, servicing students identified with special needs, such English Language Learners and those receiving speech therapy. GATE students have been identified as having special needs, she said as she urged the Board of Education to do more to support the group, which totals approximately 11% of the entire student population.
“The GATE program in the last year has made tremendous progress and I’m extremely encouraged by Dr. Kissinger’s efforts and the the work he’s put forth in growing this program,” she added.
“It’s important to gauge not just the academic but the social and emotional needs of these students,” said Kissinger.
School officials and members of the Board of Education debated the challenges and ways of measuring GATE students progress and needs. They also touched on future funding of the program.
Board President Dr. Roberta Reynolds asked for information on college attendance rates for GATE student graduates, noting that the goal of the district is to prepare all students for college and career readiness.
The full discussion and complete GATE presentation can be found on the BUSD website for the Board of Education meeting of Thursday, December 18.