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Fate of Skyridge fourth-grade classes unknown

Timing would cause ‘major disruptions,’ parent says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Some Skyridge parents are upset that their principal has proposed changes to the gifted and talented program six weeks into the school year. The change would impact all fourth-grade classes but drew the most attention from parents who have students in the Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE, class. Parents also asked about the district’s GATE plan and criteria at a special Auburn Union School District Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday night. The meeting was called after parents expressed concerns to the trustees about proposed changes to the school’s fourth-grade program, including students being teamed with others at their ability level for a daily hour-and-25-minute math class. The changes would have also included an hour-long enrichment/intervention period, according to Principal Jenn Lewandowski. These changes could have meant that students would be pulled out of their home classrooms and sent to other fourth-grade rooms during these periods. These changes would have affected all fourth-grade students, including GATE students, said Superintendent Michele Schuetz. The changes would have taken effect Monday, according to Schuetz. The district’s four trustees decided to bring the potential changes to fourth grade back for more discussion at a future meeting and no other direction was provided to staff. At the beginning of the meeting Board President Daniel Berlant said he wanted to clear up any misinformation that had gone out about the possible changes. According to fourth-grade parent Brian O’Brien, parents received a letter from teacher Beth Schools saying her new GATE class was being dismantled. Schuetz said before the meeting that the class was never going to be dismantled. Schuetz said fifth-graders at Skyridge already team for math based on ability level and this would be a similar model. She said the enrichment hour would involve students being challenged through lessons such as poetry, languages and music. An hour of intervention would give other students the extra help they might need in certain areas. Several parents at Wednesday’s meeting said they disagreed with any changes being implemented six weeks into the school year. Some said they disagreed with changes that would affect the new GATE cluster class. O’Brien said he felt the changes were coming at the wrong time. “The biggest challenge for my family is facing the major disruption to the school day and what was offered at the school this year,” he said. “The issue for us is the timing. Six weeks in we are going to have some major disruptions.” O’Brien said he felt Schools should have been allowed to “shine” in her role as the fourth-grade GATE teacher, rather than taking students out of her class for portions of the day. Suzanna Johnson, a third-grade parent, said she considered the special meeting an extreme “disappointment” because she didn’t feel the district had addressed parent concerns about the pilot third-grade high achiever class and fourth and fifth-grade GATE classes at Skyridge. Schools said she wouldn’t have time to teach state standards in her class in the afternoon if her students were pulled out for teaming. “I didn’t ask for this position, and I feel it’s a huge betrayal to all parents who expected a GATE program,” Schools said. “I just have set up wonderful things in the class, which would just be taken away and destroyed.” Lewandowski said the fourth-grade classes at Skyridge are currently very unbalanced in terms of proficiency in certain areas, sparking the idea for the teamed classes. “It’s really difficult to be two students in a class that you don’t have a level group to do your math with,” she said. Lewandowski said when she met with the fourth-grade teachers and Schuetz, she was looking forward to her son, a fourth-grader, having the chance to experience literature and poetry, plays, music and writing in the enrichment period. Parent Renee Christensen said she didn’t like the timing of the changes and was surprised they were coming up. She said she is a member of the GATE Advisory Committee. “I thought we were going to go forward with GATE as it was,” she said. Fourth-grade teacher Gloria Maxwell said the three fourth-grade teachers were all highly trained. She said the GATE students weren’t learning curriculum that was any different from non-GATE students. Maxwell said teaming would allow students to learn with others at their math ability levels. “Historically we have done this through the years,” Maxwell said. “It’s nothing new. The only thing different is the GATE label.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com