Future of Canyons' gifted and talented program up in the air

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 2 2011 6:22 p.m. MST

SANDY— Quick learners in the Canyons District might receive their advanced curriculum in a different manner depending on how the district's Board of Education responds to a recent internal report. Meanwhile, parents of gifted kids wait to hear what will become of the program.

Supporting Advanced Learners Toward Achievement is an outgrowth of ALPS, the gifted and talented program at Jordan School District. SALTA is a test-in program that puts high achievers in elementary and middle schools in a more rigorous learning environment. The top 3 percent of students in the district are given the option of attending one of four magnet elementary schools, where they receive accelerated curriculum in core subjects and grade-level instruction in others. The district has one magnet middle school — Midvale Middle.

As the district considers changing boundaries to accommodate its plan to move sixth grade into middle school, it needs to consider where the magnet schools will be, said district spokeswoman, Jennifer Toomer-Cook. What's more, it needs to look at the sustainability of the SALTA program, she said, since some SALTA classes have far fewer students than regular classes.

"We want to make sure they all have sustainable enrollment boundaries," she said.

Sheila Armstrong PTA president at Peruvian Park Elementary, a SALTA magnet school, said she believes the reason more students who qualify aren't participating is because parents aren't sure if the district plans to keep SALTA. She said parents don't want to take the risk of transferring their child back to their neighborhood school if its discontinued.

At the board's request, district staff presented five possible options for the program's future in several meetings with parents and teachers last week. The options included keeping the program as is, eliminating it entirely, having one central location to serve grades one through five, having one location to serve grades three through five, offering no magnet services, or having two different locations to serve first and second grades and third through fifth. Staff told the board at Tuesday's board meeting that parents and teachers proposed a sixth option that was widely favored. That option is to have two schools each serving first through fifth grades.

Armstrong that while she wishes the district accepted 10-15 percent of students into the program like Jordan did, her main concern is making sure there continues to be an option for kids who need additional challenge and rigor.

"If at least there is a place for them, then we can discuss how many of them we need to include," she said.

Toomer-Cook said the SALTA discussion is still in its early stages, and the board is still hearing comment on how to best serve students. She said some students will find sufficient challenge as the district implements the new state curriculum for math and language arts.

"It's going to make sure that the accelerated learner is taken care of," Toomer-Cook said of the new curriculum, known as the Common Core State Standards.

Armstrong said she thinks SALTA is invaluable for students who might feel singled-out for their achievement in traditional classes. She said her six children have been part of the program spanning 20 years.

"It's been a great program for them," she said.

Pulling the SALTA program from Midvale Middle School poses its own challenges, said Superintendent David Doty.

Made up of both SALTA students and neighborhood children who live in the boundaries, Midvale Middle has a striking disparity in terms of achievement outcomes, Doty said. While essentially every SALTA student passes annual state standardized tests, the neighborhood kids who attend the school struggle, with only about half of them achieving. That population is largely made up of low-income students, and others who are English language learners.

He said regardless of where SALTA ends up, it's imperative that the district do something to improve the education of the neighborhood students.

"We can't continue to perpetuate that," he said.

The board has yet to take any action and will continue to discuss the SALTA issue, among other, Toomer-Cook said.

E-mail: mfarmer@desnews.com

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