Charlottesville Schools to address gifted numbers

SHORT PUMP—In Charlottesville City Schools, 64 percent of the students are minorities.

How to increase the numbers of these students taking upper-level courses was an item of discussion during the School Board’s annual retreat this weekend in Richmond.

“It’s a strategic plan goal to continue to increase the number of underrepresented populations [in upper-level classes], and I think that’s a goal across the country,” said Gertrude Ivory, Charlottesville’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

One area of concern is the amount of minority students enrolled in Quest, the division’s gifted education program. Last year, 12 percent of the 735 Quest students were minorities.

In addition to students being nominated by staff or a parent, all first graders are evaluated for the program. Students are then screened by identification committees and are ultimately admitted or not.

But School Board member Colette Blount said the process doesn’t go far enough.

“The big issue is how giftedness presents itself,” Blount said. “We must train our teachers to be able to recognize that in a variety of ways.”

“I’ve had students who can barely write a sentence, but what they are able to express about themselves or the world is beyond grade level,” added Blount, who teaches for Albemarle County Public Schools.

Ivory said the division could bolster these figures.

“We may go to a different number for minority students,” Ivory said of how students are scored against the program’s matrix.

However, Ivory added, it’s important not to over-identify students as gifted.

“You can’t go too far, because then you’re looking at different children, so there’s a range within which you can pull students,” Ivory said.

Ivory also said limiting the division-wide evaluation to first grade might also be a contributing factor.

“Coming in at first grade, yes you’ve had the opportunities…of kindergarten and first grade, but then there are those experiences prior to and how many of the students have preschool or no preschool,” Ivory said.

In addition to Quest, schools officials also discussed the demographics of students taking honors, Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses. In a dual enrollment course, students are enrolled at a college or university for that course, whereas AP students are enrolled at his or her home high school.

This year, 31 percent of dual enrollment students at Charlottesville High School were minorities, as compared to 25 percent of AP students.

Minority students enrolled in honors classes at CHS equaled 36 percent this year, while that number was 46 percent at Buford Middle School.

“The talent is obviously there because we have students in our AVID program,” School Board member Leah Puryear said.

AVID is a college-prep program for students who are in the academic middle but are interested in going to college. Minorities comprise 84 percent of the program.

African-American enrollment division-wide has decreased in the last few years, and this trend may be contributing to the numbers, Superintendent Rosa Atkins said.

All students are welcome to enroll in AP classes. This summer, students who haven’t taken an AP course can also take a class to prepare them for the rigor of AP classes.

“More students will [take AP classes] after this program, and this is the first summer of the program,” Ivory said.

Despite the numbers, School Board Chair Juandiego Wade said it’s important to look at the entire student.

Wade said he’s read numerous scholarship applications from high C and low B students and many of them devote much of their time to work in order to help their families—a responsibility, Wade said, that should not go overlooked.

Atkins said a healthy school system should value a mix of courses.

“Our regular classes should be rigorous enough that a student feels well-prepared for college level work,” Atkins said.