Earlier this year, Park City School District Superintendent Ember Conley unveiled her District Learning Plan. The document included plans to expand the Gifted-and-Talented Education program by hiring another GATE specialist. Conley did so in March, and parents of students in the community helped her to hire two more. Now there will be a specialist at each elementary school.
Three years ago, it was Mason alone handling identified gifted-and-talented students at all four elementary schools. DeEtte Earl was then hired on as a specialist to assist Mason. Now she is the specialist at Parley's Park Elementary.
"Because I was the only one available, my primary focus was the identified gifted students in third-, fourth- and fifth-grade, so I would pull them out of class for 75 minutes to complete a range of activities, from creative thinking to critical thinking, math activities and verbal language activities," Earl said. "The advantage of having a specialist in every building is you'll serve all learners and be more of a resource and support for teachers, because we'll be there every day to help them with planning, materials for higher learners and things like that."
Paula Krueger has been a 1st, 2nd and 4th grade teacher in the district and was hired as a second GATE specialist in March.
Mason said when Krueger was added to the GATE team in March, they put together a model to show to Conley and administrators. A group of parents then wondered why they couldn't have an elementary specialist at each school and met with the Park City Education Foundation to see what could be done to fulfill that request.
The group of parents and the Ed Foundation approached Conley and asked if the district would hire two additional specialists if they raised enough money to pay their salary. They successfully collected $180,000 in donations from the community by their June 1 deadline, so Kathleen Gibson was hired at McPolin Elementary and Marjean Johnston was hired at Trailside Elementary.
All four specialists have at least 20 years of teaching experience each as well as experience in the Park City School District. They are also all gifted-and-talented endorsed and have experience teaching clustered groups of students.
Mason, Earl and Krueger are currently working on the sequence and scope of the program and designing units that will adhere to the six performance standards of the program to teach three levels of students.
"Level one is all learners, and we will provide enrichment for them on Fridays," Earl said. "Level two are the high-ability and high-achieving students, and we will serve them in the classroom in the subjects of language arts and math. Level three are the identified gifted-and-talented students, who will continue to receive the services they currently have."
Decisions that have been made regarding curriculum include focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics during Friday enrichments for level one students and using the "push-in" method to teach level two students.
"Push-in" means the specialists will enter the classroom and help a gifted-and-talented endorsed teacher with teaching strategies in a regular classroom environment to provide deeper, higher-level lessons for students exhibiting mastery of concepts in language arts and math.
Gifted-and-talented students will continue to be pulled out of the classroom for 75 minutes with the specialists. The program, covering all levels of learners, will be the same at each elementary. When the school year comes to a close, the program will have to be evaluated, and Mason is in charge of figuring out just how it will be assessed.
"A big piece of what we are going to keep for assessment is the portfolio, which is qualitative data," she said. "We'll also have access to the new Galileo benchmark system in order to design our own assessment tools that are more qualitative."
Mason is also in charge of researching "blended learning" models for continuation of the program when students reach Ecker Hill Middle School. No decisions have been made on that front yet, but a committee to help do so is being formed by newly appointed associate superintendent Dr. Kathleen Einhorn. So far, Mason said, the committee is comprised of administrators but she thinks appointing parents to the committee will also be a topic of discussion.
Every week throughout the school year, Earl said all four specialists and Mason will meet to discuss lesson plans and progress. They said they are excited to meet with Gibson and Johnston in August and are grateful to the community for valuing their children's education enough to invest in hiring two more specialists.
"I am just so excited about the fact that we can now make a more significant difference at every building," Earl said. "I won't just see the kids once a week like last year but see them day in and day out, which will make a huge difference in their growth."