By MARYANN DREAS
MT. VERNON — District 80 will continue and expand its successful Talented and Gifted program next year despite unsure funding, said members of the District 80 Board of Education at a meeting last week.
“Next year we’re going to make it even stronger ... so every kid gets pushed to their maximum,” District 80 Assistant Superintendent Tyler Brown said during Wednesday’s meeting.
This could prove difficult with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s budget, which allows for only a small increase in education funding by 2.3 percent, far less than the 4.8 percent increase in last year’s education allowances. While many school districts in Southern Illinois have had to cut their talented and gifted school programs due to funding problems, District 80 has been able to keep the TAG program up and running through general corporate funds.
“The Illinois state board of education restored some of the funds but those funds are already zeroed out in the budget,” Brown said. “We’re able to keep the program without the money.”
Talented and gifted programs are often overlooked in budget allocating, as reflected in the dramatic drop from $19 million to zero for gifted program funding in 2002 in Illinois.
The TAG program focuses on children in Mt. Vernon city schools that excel and qualify for special education through a federal evaluation. According to information revealed at the meeting, 128 students in District 80 were served in the program in the 2008-09 academic year, four more than in 2007-08. Twenty-two students were from the Primary Center, 36 were from the J. L. Buford Intermediate School and 71 were from Zadok Casey Middle School. Eighteen percent of students were of a non-Caucasion background, and 69 were females and 59 were males. Twenty-seven percent of kindergarten through fifth grade students and 45 percent of middle school students in the TAG program were economically disadvantaged.
Depending on their grade level, students in the TAG program receive two to three hours of instruction per week, but Brown explained plans in the 2009-10 year to expand that time. “We’re expanding to make it a K-5 program,” he said.
“Our focus time on those students will be during RtI Tier 2 instruction so they will have a regular class every day in the TAG program during the Response to Intervention block.”
Through scientific, research-based methods, Response to Intervention measures a student’s performance and makes conclusions on their responses to the interventions, in accordance with the Illinois State Board of Education. The program is all about “helping all kids where they’re at, and exactly in those areas where they need it at any given time,” Brown said previously.
The TAG program received strong parental support in the last school year and provided students with challenging and fun activities such as Team Quest, in which three teams qualified for the regional level involving all of southern Illinois, and one team advanced to the state finals level.
Three TAG students attended the Illinois Young Author Conference in Bloomington, and two students were selected as Writing Talent Search winners in a Hamilton-Jefferson County competition. Still another 14 others attended a science fair at SIU-Carbondale, where two were given a $75 award for their projects.
Students also enjoyed field trips to the City Museum and Magic House in St. Louis.