School division hires four, plans to hire four more

Changes to Charlottesville City Schools’ gifted program, Quest, are slated to be presented to the City Council on Monday evening when the division seeks the final approval of funds to hire additional specialists to strengthen the new model.

Superintendent Rosa Atkins said it is important to present the changes to councilors because the division made a request outside of the normal budgeting cycle. It’s also an opportunity to inform community members and councilors about the changes, she said.

“We appreciate the city for even allowing us to come to make a request for the additional personnel,” Atkins said.

“That is not something we have done in the past,” she said.

The division originally requested $620,000 from the city to hire eight more gifted specialists. The city, however, has a resolution to allocate $468,000 to fund six of the eight positions and that is set to be approved upon a second reading Monday. The division will pay for the remaining two teachers in its budget, Atkins said Thursday at a School Board meeting.

If they are not hired by the first day of school, that will not diminish our efforts to hire. We’ll continue to interview as we get new applicants. We’ll continue to explore the possibilities of bringing those applicants on board if they are not filled by that time.

Rosa Atkins Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent

City staff recommends $156,000 of the allocation coming from the equity allocation of the council’s strategic initiatives fund and $312,000 from the citywide reserve fund.

The division previously presented the overhaul of Quest at a School Board meeting in June. The universal screening for Quest that occurs at first grade will move to at least two other grades. The plan also will bolster a “push-in” model, allowing all students to receive instructions at the same time, as gifted specialists collaborate with classroom teachers.

Other changes include expanding the collection examples of students’ best work to help determine giftedness from the first grade to the first through third grades.

At the June meeting, parents lauded the improvements during a public comment session, but some criticized the administration for moving too quickly to hire new gifted specialists.

Atkins said in an interview that she took parents’ concerns into consideration to shape the direction her administration is taking with Quest.

“I can understand parents having anxiety when we’re changing a model that’s been in place for such a long time. That model has served many students extremely well,” she said, adding that she’s putting an equity lens on it that will serve all children.

In 2018, racial inequalities came to the forefront after an article by the New York Times and ProPublica focused on the division’s gifted program. The school system is 43% white, 37% black and 11% Latino; 73% of students in Quest are white, 13% are black and 5% are Latino.

Four of the eight gifted specialists already have been hired. The division aims at hiring the remaining four before the first day of school on Aug. 21.

“If they are not hired by the first day of school, that will not diminish our efforts to hire,” Atkins said. “We’ll continue to interview as we get new applicants. We’ll continue to explore the possibilities of bringing those applicants on board if they are not filled by that time.”

Ideally, the division would like two gifted specialists in each building, Atkins said.

“We want two in, but that does not negate the fact that we still have very robust curricula that’s in place in all of our schools,” she said.

Her move to hire more gifted specialists comes in a critical time, as a shortage of teachers affects Virginia and the nation.

According to a study by Learning Policy Institute, the most available data revealed “teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000, a 35 % reduction.”  The same report, titled A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S., showed there’s a decrease of “almost 240,000 professionals on their way to the classroom in the year 2014, as compared to 2009.”

But, Atkins said, research shows communities with major universities tend to attract teachers better than other communities. That’s because of the influx of professors and new staff members who bring their spouses or someone in their family who’s in the teaching field.

Atkins also said she starts recruiting early.

“Our applicant pool seems to be a little deeper,” she said.