The Amphitheater School Board approved two measures that will bolster programming for its gifted students on Tuesday.
The board agreed to improve Amphi’s Realizing Excellence through Academic and Creative Help program by: hiring at least three new full-time elementary school teachers and increasing the time allocated for instruction; and expand instruction in English high school classes for advanced students.
Spending an estimated $117,660 for supplementary textbooks and technology for the district’s elementary and middle schools will be explored at a later date.
Patrick Nelson, superintendent for Amphi, said the initial report that earmarked ways the district can improve its REACH curriculum would be too costly, so school operations identified the three most pressing issues.
“Implementation of the entire report would be, at this point in time, prohibitively expensive and probably not doable — unless the governor and the legislature come through with quite a bit of additional funding,” Nelson said.
Monica Nelson, associate superintendent for Amphi, said this discussion would only address the first steps towards revamping the REACH program, which were identified by meeting with parents and teachers involved in the curriculum.
“And we felt like we couldn’t do everything, that’s why we called these, very carefully, ‘first steps,’” she said.
Deanna M. Day, vice president of Amphi’s Governing Board, asked for clarification about why there’s a difference between the cluster model — a technique that groups gifted students together — in elementary school compared to high school.
Donna Shreve, a department chair at REACH, said the cluster model of instruction at the elementary school level is mandated, whereas high school students can choose whether they want to attend a seminar-style cluster class.
Shreve further said expanding the push-in technique — where gifted instructors would visit a student’s regular English class, teaching joint curriculum throughout the year — would make the advanced programming more efficient at the 9th and 10th grade level. “So by having the REACH teacher push-in to that classroom, then they’ll get those services.”
One of the biggest concerns is the inconsistency in Amphi’s gifted program, said Melanie Derksen, a department chair at REACH. Students in middle school receive daily advanced instruction, but once they reach high school the program diminishes, she said.
“We need to figure out what we can do, in 9th and 10th grade, for our REACH teachers to service these children,” Derksen said.
Jo Grant, president of Amphi’s Governing Board, asked how the REACH committee and Amphi school operations choose the three items being considered that evening.
Shreve said the glaring shortfall of the REACH program was in outreach to the youngest gifted students at Amphi schools, which is also the greatest concern for parents.
At the high school level, the REACH chairs, as well as Associate Superintendent Nelson, said if they had to choose between implementing a boost in programming for freshman and sophomores, or continuing to fund the gifted internship program, they would choose the former.
Reducing, or removing, the junior- and senior-level internship opportunities in order to supplement the costs of enhancing outreach for younger high school students would be a detriment to Amphi students and the community overall, said Scott A. Leska, an Amphi Governing Board member.
“I think that’s a disservice to those students who are looking forward to it,” he said.
The original framework for assessing, and improving, Amphi’s advanced curriculum was not a matter of choosing between slashing one part of the program to fund another, said Cymry DeBoucher, an honors internship coordinator at Canyon del Oro High School.
Moreover, the honors work DeBoucher is involved with is much more than a once a week seminar class for Amphi’s brightest pupils, she said. Honors counselors often spend up to 15 hours each week, scheduling job interviews for students looking for advanced-level internships, and molding the direction of these pupils beyond graduate school.
“We also see academic competitions as an important part of what should be provided to gifted students,” she said. “And that may or may not be part of the gifted process, but it certainly has been at my high school for 20 years.”