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U-46 policy changes set for next meeting vote


By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 discussed changes to its policy under Section 6 (Instruction) with some dissent at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 25. The board is expecting to vote on the changes at its March 4 meeting.
  Most of the debate centered around changes to Code 6.130 (Programs for Gifted Students) and the possible elimination of definitions.
  The controversy stemmed from how the district, under the policy, will define gifted and talented students which is “students who perform or who show the potential to perform at significantly advanced levels of accomplishment when benchmarked against local norms and their optimal development arises from differentiated educational experiences.”
  At question is the phrase “when benchmarked against local norms” which board member Jeanette Ward suggested removing because it would mean each U-46 building could have different standards.
  Referencing a gifted presentation in December which included “local norms,” Ward said: “I think I raised a concern at that time that then some buildings are going to be viewed higher than others because what’s gifted in this building is not the same as what is gifted in that building.”
  In December, the district never denied that the use of “local norms” lowers standards. U-46 referenced a quote by Scott Peters: “Certain student groups score differently than others because as a society we treat them differently.”
  Ward noted at the time the incongruous message the district was sending that students shouldn’t be treated differently yet admitting “local norms” could mean exactly that when she asked: “If we are changing the admission criteria or process for certain groups, isn’t that treating them differently?” The district didn’t directly respond but instead claimed the “local norms” were needed to address “underrepresentation.”
  At a Feb. 4 committee meeting regarding the policy change, Ward said “the danger is the definition of gifted doesn’t really have a definition” with this change to which board member Sue Kerr said “that’s true.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the change reflects national trends from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and claimed there were “tremendous results” in some districts nationally. Sanders provided no data or a definition of what constituted “tremendous results.”
  “From my perspective, I don’t care who said it if it’s the state, the local or the national,” Ward later said. “I disagree with how local norms is stated here if it’s us saying it, if the state said it or if the nation said it. The danger is that then you have different buildings who have different standards for what constitutes gifted, and I have a problem with that”
  The NAGC defines a gifted student as one whose “ability is significantly above the norm for their age” and U-46 uses similar language on the gifted page of its website.
  Kerr asked if there would be an impact if that phrase were removed and board member Melissa Owens asked if it’s “absolutely necessary” to be in the policy. Sanders said it would not likely change the district’s practices and Luis Rodriguez, assistant attorney, said he would check if it was legally necessary.
  Sanders said the “challenge” was that state funding may be effected depending on what the policy states.
  There was a belief expressed by some that certain schools in the district and subgroups of students were inferior and needed lower standards.
  “I would like to support this language,” said board member Veronica Noland. “I believe that this is to be more inclusive, to recognize those differences building to building and I believe that we would be narrowing our net to identify gifted children if we take this out.”
  Kerr said she supported “more inclusive language as well” but wanted updates in order to make adjustments in the future. She also said: “Certain children are going to score better than others just because of their backgrounds.”
  However, board member Phil Costello agreed with Ward’s concerns saying: “When we talk about district-wide and all of our students, we should look at it that way. So I will probably be voting against anything that is narrowing it down to a zip code or a unit. I think that’s possibly too narrow and it does a disservice to what we have as a district.”
  Sanders claimed “it’s not really to narrow it down to a specific zip code” and claimed some students can’t “shine through” without the district artificially helping through its policies.
  “They’re as equally as gifted as some of the students who are identified from your higher achieving schools, but giving them that opportunity and that seat is a make or break moment for that student,” Sanders said.
  Ward replied: “Well, they would already have that opportunity if they have performed at significantly advanced levels of accomplishment.”
  Sanders said “and within their environment they have,” and Owens said “giftedness isn’t always about just rote accomplishment.” Although the implicit admission that “local norms” means students won’t be treated equally based on what school they attend, Sanders claimed this is “more equitable.”
  Board member John Devereux said the “local norms” mirror some college admissions which may look at peer-to-peer performance.
  At the Feb. 4 committee meeting, Ward suggested changes to Code 6.165 (Dual Language Program) and Code 6.210 (Instructional Materials) to remove the term “global society” and replace it with “globally” which Rodriguez said “it’s not a bad suggestion.” Ward said “global society” implies there are “global citizens” and “we don’t really have a global society.”
  Kerr and Owens initially disagreed but came to a consensus to change the wording.
  Several changes to the policy were specifically noted as necessary based on state law. Some included the need to teach “commemorative holidays,” teaching kindergartners about drug and substance abuse and teaching students the positive role of labor unions.
  Ward asked: “What is the state going to do (if the changes weren’t approved by the board) because if we have to adopt it, what’s the point of having a vote?”
  The district’s legal team did not have an answer for the specific ramifications but said they were there to simply advise the board on the law. Sanders said there’s “ongoing proliferation of bills… representing special interests” that the legal team needs to review constantly.
  Ward noted she understood their advisement roles and her disagreement wasn’t “personal” to them. Although noting her opposition, she thanked the staff for their work.
  Also expecting a vote at the March 4 meeting is the board’s 2019-2020 meeting schedule as well as seven expenditure items totaling $7.9 million from the education fund, one from the district safety fund totaling $2.3 million and two from the operations and maintenance fund totaling $2.1 million.

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