School Talk: El Dorado County offers plenty of talent

By: Vicki Barber
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A question I was asked a few years ago was, “Don’t you think the program for gifted and talented students is poorly run and underfunded?” Of course, it was a loaded question. The questioner had an agenda and was ready to launch into explanations of what he/she thought would fix the situation. My opinion was secondary to the perception of what should be. The subject of the question, gifted students, is replaceable with any number of programs: No Child Left Behind, special education, career tech, visual and performing arts, auto mechanics, reading or algebra in the eighth grade. It really doesn’t matter when there is an agenda brewing for fixing the situation. The current economic situation is forcing us to look at more than just the individual programs we’ve developed over the years for populations of students in schools, and to look at the broader perspective of education as a whole. In the past we’ve tried to address the needs of particular populations of students by creating programs addressing those individualized issues. We had the money and the staffing to do so, and it made perfect sense to meet needs in this way. With today’s budget challenges we must re-think the way we provide services. Programs are being cut or disappearing from budgets at both a federal and state level, which then trickles down to county and district levels. That re-think is opening up opportunities to ask important questions like, “What would make a quality program for all students? What would it take to include the gifted and the special needs students in that program?” On top of the budget issues is the federal imperative to have all students at a level of proficiency by 2014. Discussions run high in schools regarding how to help students who are still reading and doing math at a basic or below-basic level. No one wants to ignore students who are intellectually gifted, yet we have a large number of students for whom we have not yet been able to unlock the treasure trove of their giftedness to allow them to shine as brightly as their fellow students. A war against low test scores only creates more discussion about how poorly run and underfunded are our low-performing schools. We do, however, see schools around the country in the midst of a community of poverty, yet students are performing. They’re making it work. How? What is called for is clear vision toward successful students and families. What does it look like in a school, any school, for all children to be successful? Who needs to support those efforts? How will we make it happen? What resources do we have and where could those funds be allocated if our goal is for all children to be successful? My answer to the questioner a few years ago is the same as it would be today, “I think all parents see their children as gifted and talented and I believe we need to run quality programs for all children.” Our budgets and our assessments for learning need to support all of our wonderfully gifted and talented children, no matter what the circumstances. Vicki L. Barber has been with the El Dorado County Office of Education for 26 years. In 1994, she was elected as the Superintendent of Schools.