After nearly two hours and close to three dozen speakers at a community forum last week, the consensus view of District 97’s gifted program was positive but that parts of it could be improved.

Close to 100 people attended a public forum last Wednesday in the auditorium at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, 325 S. Kenilworth Ave., to solicit feedback from parents about the program.

In all, 32 parents spoke out about what they like and don’t like about the program.

Also in attendance were Dist. 97 Supt. Constance Collins; Kelly Baird, middle school coordinator; and Kevin Anderson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Several members of the Dist. 97 Board of Education attended.

Though Baird and Anderson, who served as MCs, answered a few questions at the end, the relatively subdued, evening forum was meant to hear from parents.

In general, they spoke favorably of the program but had suggestions. Several echoed many of the same concerns, such as the poor communication within the district about services.

“There is a very deep and broad communication problem in this district with parents and among various levels of administration,” said Emily Hauser, parent of a student at Whittier Elementary School, 715 N. Harvey Ave.

Hauser noted that this view is shared by other parents she’s spoken with.

“Teachers don’t know what’s been decided by administrators. Administrators don’t know what’s been decided by other administrators. I hear a lot of people basically talking about, ‘I was never told.'”

A few parents were upset that the forum itself was not heavily advertised, and that they only knew about it from an e-mail sent that day from the district listserv. A second public forum is scheduled for next Tuesday at Brooks Middle School.

Other common sentiments came from those who were happy with their school’s program. Some parents said the district needed a better transition for gifted students moving from one level to the next.

“I’ve never got the sense in the past that there was a good transition into the middle schools,” said Kim Kishbaugh, parent of a Lincoln student and member of Page97, a parents’ advocacy group for gifted children.

Kishbaugh also supported, along with other parents, early testing to identify gifted students. Some parents wanted assurance that all students identified would have access to services, and having something in place for high-achieving students not identified as gifted. Parents also supported measures other than testing to identify gifted students.

A few parents expressed concern over Brooks instituting a lottery system last school year to place students in its sixth and seventh grade gifted program because of the high demand.

Parents complained about not knowing of the lottery ahead of time and whether it was fair.

Some parents felt the district made decisions before talking to parents.

“Whatever we come up with here, parents need to be involved in more of the front end of the process,” said Glenn Brewer, parent of a student at Brooks.

The district will seek input from building staff via an online survey available next week. A report based on survey and forum responses is scheduled to be presented to the board by May.

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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