Education Summit Reports: G&T, Achievement Gap and ‘Meeting the Needs of All Learners’

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At the Gifted & Talented Strategies session at the South Orange-Maplewood Educaiton Summit, Clinton Elementary Media Specialist Jennifer Latimer began facilitating the discussion by fielding questions that attendees had about the school district’s gifted and talented program. Some participants expressed confusion about the purpose of the evening, asking questions about specific information that they as parents did not know, such as, “Do we actually have a G&T program?”

Session participants made the decision to break into smaller groups by topics of interest and levels of education. Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos appeared at the back of the room soon after, and sat in on some of the discussion, listening. Frustrations ran high as parents tried to differentiate between questions and strategies. While there was general appreciation for the forum itself, participants expressed further confusion about the expected purpose of the session. “Why are we talking about questions here tonight, if they will all be answered next week at the gifted and talented session?” sighed one frustrated parent.

(During the session, a gifted and talented strategy meeting overview was announced for next Wednesday, November 18, from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at Clinton Elementary School. Presented by the Parenting Center and Elementary PTAs, the meeting will be led by Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Susan Grierson and gifted and talented education expert Alison Brown, who will both explain South Orange Maplewood’s “new, more strategic and comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of students with exceptional abilities in our elementary schools.”)

Meanwhile, the G&T session at the Education Summit touched on such issues as: the ending of math and language arts in enrichment, should G&T be inclusive or exclusive, and what is the criteria? How do we identify kids? Is there a standard definition of gifted, or is it a moving target? Are there gifted study-abroad programs, and how do we address the needs of and support twice-exceptional children?

There were several students in attendance, and they asked whether there were gifted programs in their schools, and if not, why not?

In another session, “Meeting the Needs of All Learners,” Annmarie Maini, one of two newly elected school board members (Maini and running mate Chris Sabin take office in January), facilitated a session about motivating all students towards appropriate learning. A top issue in the session included getting all children access to resources, one of Maini’s key campaign issues. Discussion included restructuring schools, enhancing teacher support, and better communication between parents and teachers.

Nearby, at the “Achievement Gap” session, South Orange Middle School Principal Lynn Irby facilitated. She spoke powerfully and passionately about guidance counselor issues and availability, the need for early intervention for kids with challenges, and how the culture of schools needs to change.

Said Irby, “Every student should have an advocate – someone they can rely on.”

Highlights of the session included the import of reversing the culture of low expectations, enhancing the power of students and improving how adults communicate with children.

“I open the door to have important conversations if, as an administrator, I know how to talk to students and teachers” without alienating them, Irby explained.

Read our preliminary report on the SOMSD Education Summit — including recaps of the Reimagining Seth Boyden, Reimagining the High School Experience, Access & Equity and “Deep Engagement and Exhilarating Experiences” sessions — here.


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