At Gov. Gary R. Herbert's appearance at Park City High School to award Principal Bob O'Connor with the Utah State AP Award, O'Connor said a contributor to the success the students are seeing at the high school is the education they begin receiving in elementary school. When Superintendent Ember Conley first came to Park City last year, she performed a needs assessment and realized gifted-and-talented education, beginning in elementary schools, was an area of concern.
" area of concern, I mean that it was felt within staff and among parents that our 'truly gifted' students needed all the help they could get to continue to perform at that level," Conley said. "'Truly gifted' means a student that performs at or above the 97th percentile in any of the three areas tested in the CogAT exam."
The Cognitive Abilities Test assesses students' understanding in three basic areas: verbal battery, quantitative battery and non-verbal battery. According to Conley, the Park City School District has a higher than national average of students who are "truly gifted" as well as a large number of students who score 90 percent or higher in any one of the three areas tested on the CogAT exam.
At a meeting with district officials, a group of parents and the Park City Education Foundation, the foundation said they would like to raise money with the help of the parents to hire two more gifted-and-talented education, or GATE, specialists. Conley responded saying the district would hire another GATE specialist internally and would hire two more if they raised roughly $200,000 by June 1.
Paula Krueger, a fourth-grade teacher at Jeremy Ranch Elementary, was chosen to become an elementary school GATE specialist for the district beginning with the 2014-15 school year. DeEtte Earl is currently the elementary school GATE specialist while Gina Mason is the GATE specialist for the students at Ecker Hill Middle School.
"They work with the teacher in preparing lessons to differentiate at greater levels and provide more project-based learning, which is typically those students' learning style, rigorous and hands-on," Conley said.
GATE students are "clustered" together with one teacher at the school, and the GATE specialists assist the designated teacher. They perform a "step in" process where they enter the classroom and help teach, but they also perform "step out" classes in which they take students out of the classroom and work with them in the area where they tested in the 97th percentile.
According to a press release issued by the Park City Education Foundation, the district's two GATE specialists currently work across five schools, serving 230 students and providing approximately one hour and 15 minutes to a gifted student each week.
"These limited resources preclude specialists from serving the broader population of high-performing students and from acting as a resource to the classroom teacher to help differentiate lessons for gifted and high-performing kids," the release states.
Parents and the Park City Education Foundation feel it would be beneficial to have a GATE specialist at each elementary school. The approximately $200,000 they need to raise would be to fund salary and benefits for two new specialists, which means there would be a GATE specialist serving each of the four elementary schools in the district.
Conley said the two new hires would also be internal, because there is a group of teachers in the district that are certified through the gifted and talented endorsement the district offers. If the money is raised and two more specialists are hired, there will be data gathered throughout the year to see if the two new specialists will stay on-board.
"I feel that yes, they are going to stay on, because I am passionate about doing this knowing the results we will have," Conley said. "So it's not necessarily if they will stay on but really a discussion of funding sources from that point on as well as sustainability."
There will be several fundraising open houses held throughout town on May 8, 15, 21 and 22. For more information on when and where the open houses will be held, contact Superintendent Ember Conley at 435-645-5600 extension 1434 or Abby McNulty, executive director of the Park City Education Foundation at 435-615-0235.