Choosing a School Program for Gifted Students
a "White Paper" by Martha Faulkner, Principal, Westmount Charter School
(Reprinted from the February 2008 Westmount Charter School Newsletter)
This is the time of year of school Open Houses, new registrations and student assessment to meet criteria for schools of choice. I thought it might be timely to consider the following questions: how do we make decisions around appropriate school placement? What are the traits or attributes that define a high quality program?
At the National Association for Gifted Children’s annual conference that I attended in November 2007, I purchased a number of reference books for our professional resource library. One of these books is titledDesigning Services and Programs for High-Ability Learners: A Guidebook for Gifted Education, Jeanne Purcell and Rebecca Eckert, editors (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2006). In this book, Briggs, Reis, Eckert and Baum (2003) outline five areas that need to be considered as part of your decision-making process. These include:
High-achieving students have unique learning needs including prior knowledge, readiness to learn, interests, learning-style preference, and a propensity for a particular expression style. Early identification provides the child with more challenging curricular work and earlier options for acceleration and enrichment. The identification procedures should include standardized test measures as well as alternative identification instruments (eg. interviews, classroom performance data, student portfolios, questionnaires of teachers and parents, nominations, etc). The use of a broad range of procedures increases the identification of a diverse range of high ability students, including larger numbers of under-represented gifted and talented students such as those with special needs or underachieving gifted learners.
2. Program Support Systems
Qualified staff are critical to the success of any school program. Staff must have an understanding of the gifted learner and the competence, initiative and flexibility to design appropriate programs to meet the needs of this very diverse group of learners. Ongoing professional development of staff enhances the effectiveness of the staff. Student Services’ programs and resources are essential to address the affective (social and emotional) as well as the academic needs of all students.
3. Curriculum/Instructional Programs
Learning opportunities must be designed with the individual student in mind and offer differentiated, enriched instruction which addresses the multiple learning styles, strengths and challenges of the student population. The school program should recognize and nurture student gifts and talents in order for the child to fully realize his/her potential. Students need to understand their learning strengths and challenges and how to employ the compensatory strategies to enable them to succeed. A Student Services team of resource personnel support this initiative.
4. Parent and Community Collaboration.
Collaboration with parents, family members and community partners is essential to program success. Parent education workshops and information sessions involve parents and community members in the school community and in the education of their children.
5. Program Evaluation Practices
Are there annual surveys of school community partners to provide program feedback? Is there an active School Council and a responsive School Board? Community partnerships are important to provide ongoing professional development and program evaluation. Longitudinal tracking systems provide information about the success of school graduate.
So… Why Westmount?
Westmount’s Student Identification Procedures
Following our Open Houses in February, Westmount has an assessment day in March for new applicants to our program. The process involves a composite of student information including teacher and parent questionnaires, student performance direct observations and reported data, student portfolios and interviews, and standardized assessments such as the CCAT group measure or the WISC IV individual measure. A staff team comprised of resource teachers, classroom teachers and school administration determine student eligibility to our school program. Our identification and intake process is comprehensive and has proven successful in identifying a broad range of diverse high-ability learners. Our continued challenge is to support these learners in a safe and caring environment which encourages personal risk-taking and individual growth in learning.
2. Westmount’s Program Support Systems
Our Teachers are highly qualified individuals with strong academic credentials, Alberta Education certification, and broad based life experiences. What do we look for when interviewing our teachers? We look for a spark… a passion for innovative teaching and learning initiatives in pursuit of educational excellence. We look for characteristics of personality, relationship, communication and commitment.
We offer a Teacher Mentorship Program for new teachers and provide practicum placement opportunities for students from University of Calgary, University of Lethbridge, Mount Royal [University] and University of Alberta. Our partnership with the Centre for Gifted Education provides opportunities for ongoing program support, professional development and action research. Our Charter Board offers financial support for graduate course work and supports our continuing education and participation at international conferences to learn and share best practices in gifted education. Our Support Staff (Teaching-Learning Assistants, office personnel) share in the understanding and commitment to high quality program delivery. (As an aside: this past week we have attended the annual Career Fairs for University of Calgary and University of Lethbridge practicum and graduating teachers. The University of Calgary organizer commented that Westmount Charter School was “the most highly regarded and sought-after exhibitor.” )
Our Student services team provides valuable resources to support program delivery to our student population in a variety of different ways. Examples include School Resource Groups, Guidance and Career Counselling, organization and time management training, IPPs and PEPs, in-class supports. Other student support initiatives include Health and Wellness, Yummy Lunches, and peer mentorship.
3. Westmount’s Instructional Program
Westmount Charter School strives to provide a program that is differentiated in content, process, and/or product in response to individual student readiness, interests, and learning profile. The learning environment promotes student ownership in learning, self-awareness, self-esteem and confidence. It supports development in areas of organization, time management, working collaboratively, effective communication, risk taking and personal growth. The school program strives to honour and validate student uniqueness and individuality.
Our Elementary school program has a dual emphasis on challenging the intellectual growth and nurturing the exploration of the multiple intelligences. Curriculum is presented in an engaging and active format with mastery learning as the goal. Opportunities are provided to explore global topics and expand areas of interest or talent, and differentiated instruction is employed so that students are educated according to their skills and knowledge.
Our Middle School program offers a challenging, individualized education program and a strong school culture. It promotes in-depth discovery, meaningful real-world educational experiences and strong student-teacher relationships. Social-emotional and life-skills development are promoted in these young adolescent years, and student achievement and successes are celebrated.
Global awareness and social action opportunities are hallmarks of our High School program, and our Video Conferencing capabilities allow students to connect with other students from around the world. Passionate, knowledgeable, innovative teachers assist students in their collegial learning. Gifted Education Diplomas are available to students in the areas of Academic Excellence, School Leadership, and Community Volunteerism. Advanced Placement (AP) courses are available for students wishing to have a head-start on University!
4. Westmount Parent and Community Involvement.
We have an active School Council who provide volunteer and financial support to teachers and students within the school community and have initiated parent education sessions on understanding giftedness, new curricular directions and improving home and school communication. We strive to build meaningful educational partnerships between parents, students and teachers in School Resource Group meetings, Parent-Teacher Conferences, IPP and PEP planning, Newsletters, etc. Our Charter Board, consisting of three parents and six community members, provides strategic direction and governance related to the school’s operation. The working committees support the school administration in effective decision-making and policy development.
Our community liaisons are widespread including the Centre for Gifted Education, University of Calgary; the Alberta Association of Public Charter Schools (TAAPCS); the Rotary Club of West Calgary; the Calgary Police Service; and the Richmond-Knob Hill Community Association. The school and Charter Board are interested in hearing from you if you have a proposal for further partnering!
5. Westmount’s Program Evaluation Practices
Westmount’s Report Card (the “Accountability Pillar”) is generated by Alberta Education, who evaluate our success in numerous areas. Student results on Diploma Exams and Provincial Achievement Tests are closely analyzed, and the parent surveys (arriving in your mailbox this week), along with on-line surveys of teachers and students, provide the information used by Alberta Education. As well, school-generated surveys collect constructive feedback from parents, students and teachers regarding the overall operation of the school.
As with all schools in Alberta, Westmount sets targets for itself via a three-year rolling Education Plan each spring, and an Annual Education Results Report each fall which measures our success in reaching those goals. Alberta Education’s Accountability Pillar meshes with the goals of our school’s Charter in the development of these reports.
As a Kindergarten-to-grade-twelve school, we have the benefit of seeing a student's development throughout her or his school years. At Westmount, we go one step beyond High School graduation and survey our Alumni, asking our graduates how they were served by us in their preparation for post-secondary education. Last year, nearly 90% of Westmount grads said they’d had an excellent or good first year of College/University, and that they felt greater readiness for College in the area of Independence in Learning, compared with their College classmates. 100% of our graduates gave Westmount an excellent or good rating in the area of creative thinking.
Westmount is a charter public school of choice. Our vision is to be recognized as the centre for excellence in gifted education. Our mission is to meet the learning needs (cognitive and academic) of gifted students, and promote their social-emotional development in a congregated setting. We partner with the Centre for Gifted Education, University of Calgary, for professional staff development, ongoing mentorship, and program design planning and evaluation.
I am proud of our school. I invite your feedback—and your involvement in our school community!
Regards, Martha Faulkner
Providing Programs for Special Populations of Gifted and Talented Students byChristine J. Briggs, Sally M. Reis, Rebecca D. Eckert, and Susan Baum. Designing Services and Programs for High-Ability Learners, pp. 32-48. © 1996, National Association for Gifted Children.
Comprehensive Program Design by Sally M. Reis, Designing Services and Programs for High-Ability Learners,pp. 73-87. © 1996, National Association for Gifted Children.
18 November 2012