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PUSD ponders growing clusters

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Gifted students in the Peoria Unified School Districtmay soon have more opportunities in districtwide classrooms.

The success of the district’s two gifted programs at Apache and Copperwood elementary schools and the reaction so far to the new approach to gifted programs assures that other campuses will see the models soon.

“It is nice to see programs succeed and replicate,” said Linda Palles-Thompson, PUSD K-12 administrator for academic services during the Jan. 14 PUSD Governing Board meeting.

However, just what shape those programs will take, and where they will be, is uncertain at this time, according to Heather Cruz, Ed.D., PUSD deputy superintendent.

“We don’t know just yet what direction we will take,” she said in a telephone interview last week. “We want to make sure Apache is successful and the programs are working well.”

Board member Matt Bullock wants to see gifted signature programs at all PUSD schools.

“I am a big supporter of the signature programs, and I will push to replicate this to all campuses,” he said he said during the Jan. 14 board meeting.

He asked administrators what the obstacles, besides funding, were to achieving that goal. Ms. Palles-Thompson said while it was not an obstacle, putting teachers and principals in place who are passionate for the concept is critical to program success.

District officials reviewed the Copperwood Elementary School, 11232 N. 65th Ave., and Apache Elementary School, 8633 W. John Cabot Road, gifted signature programs at the Jan. 14 Governing Board meeting. Copperwood is a differentiated instruction program for highly gifted students on a K-8 model while the Apache program is for gifted students in grades 3-8.

“For our program students must score well in one area to qualify while for Copperwood they must score well in two,” said Heidi Caine, Apache principal.

Both programs require students to score in the 97th percentile.

Gifted instruction helps students focus more on school, according to Ms. Caine.

“I always hear from parents who say they struggled to get their children to go to school until they came to our campus,” she said.

Michael Crudder, Copperwood principal, said the gifted program plays a key role in the school’s enrollment. The school’s student population is 58 percent from open enrollment, he explained.

“If there were no gifted signature program, Copperwood would have 300 less students,” he said.

Highly achieving results

Both programs generate highly achieving results. Copperwood gifted students meet or exceed AIMS at a 100 percent clip, while Apache gifted students are at 99 percent, according to Mr. Crudder.

Ms. Caine cautioned that gifted students are not guaranteed to be a success. Kathy Knecht, Governing Board member, agreed.

“Highly achieving and gifted are not the same,” she said. “One of the things I like is that we recognize that and teach students to their gifts.”

PUSD schools are in the middle of the first year with gifted students in mainstream classrooms. District officials switched from the pull-out programs, which required a separate teacher, to cluster models within classrooms, with those classroom teachers providing the instruction. In this first year, those teachers are not alone.

“We have implemented gifted coaches in classrooms to help train teachers in best practices,” Dr. Cruz explained.

In time, classroom teachers will design their own gifted curriculums, she added.

“The teachers are embracing it,” Dr. Cruz said.

A full evaluation of the cluster model concept in PUSD schools will be conducted at the end of the 2013-14 school year. However, measures are in place to determine student achievement during the year, according to Dr. Cruz.

“The achievement and growth scores are looking positive so far,” she explained.

District officials plan no changes to the cluster model format until its performance, and those of students, is researched during the summer months. Following that evaluation, staff will take recommendations for the future to the Governing Board.

“There is no reason to change things in midstream,” Dr. Cruz said.

News Editor Rusty Bradshaw can be reached
at 623-445-2725 or rbradshaw@newszap.com.

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