The Duval County School Board put off approving a plan to spread gifted services to more elementary and middle school students at a meeting Tuesday night.

 

The issue has been a matter of debate among board members and Superintendent Nikolai Vitti recently because there is more demand for gifted seats in Duval County than there are gifted teachers and programs.

Vitti recommended establishing more full-time gifted teachers and programs in more elementary and middle schools.

For instance, if a middle school has 22 or more gifted sixth-graders, the school would get a full-time gifted program, he said.

Vitti said Fletcher and Mandarin middle schools would have programs, and four more schools may also gain them — Mayport, Twin Lakes, Kernan and Landmark — based on enrollment projections.

He also proposed hiring more traveling gifted teachers who would work at multiple schools without full-time gifted programs. Those teachers would pull gifted students out of their classes once every two weeks for gifted education.

But board Chairwoman Ashley Smith Juarez said that isn’t fair.

She reiterated her desire for at least one school on Jacksonville’s west and north sides to have full-time gifted services, as a matter of equity.

“I have a hard time believing that the vast majority of students who qualify for gifted [programming] only live east of I-295,” Smith Juarez said.

Vitti said the numbers are not yet there to justify full-time programs at schools in the west and northern sections of the city, but the traveling teachers are an improvement over the past, when gifted students there got little or no services.

He added that he worries that if you put only one gifted middle school on the west and north side, it would draw away high performing students from low-enrollment or otherwise vulnerable middle schools.

Board member Rebecca Couch said parents in those areas are already sending their high-performing or gifted students outside the neighborhood for appropriate instruction.

The number of students who are tested and identified as gifted has increased under Vitti’s administration, especially African-American students, who grew from 500 identified gifted students a year to more than 950 now, said Mason Davis, an assistant superintendent.

Vitti said he hopes to eventually grow gifted programs at every elementary and middle school. He said he’d rather start planning now for gifted programs in every middle school, rather than just pick one school each on the Northside and Westside.

School Board members Scott Shine and Cheryl Grymes argued for approving the gifted plan as it is now, with the understanding that more discussion and planning is coming for additional gifted services.

The board voted 4-2 to defer, meaning the board will take up the matter again in a workshop later this month and will vote on it in September.

In an unrelated move, the School Board also voted unanimously to let Edward Waters College pay $12 a year to lease, or $10 to buy, a building that the district had been using for over-age students.

Edward Waters President Nat Glover said the deal will help the college train more future teachers. He also agreed to provide some space for seniors who didn’t graduate on time to finish their testing requirements and earn a diploma.

The board also voted unanimously and without discussion to retain about 75 teachers who are teaching “out of field.” Each year the district votes to retain such teachers and reassigns them to teach subjects they are certified in, rather than firing them.

The board also voted to terminate 110 teachers whose certifications have expired, but the district would rehire them if they get their certifications renewed, district spokesman Mark Sherwood said.

 

Denise Amos: (904) 359-4083