Bellevue School District: Collaborative Pioneers of Education Reform
This article highlights a new highly gifted high school program at Bellevue School District in Washington. The program provides students access to integrated classrooms and self contained gifted classrooms, as well as obtaing an International Baccalaureate Diploma, and taking Advanced Placement tests.
As gifted education gains momentum in the midst of No Child Left Behind, parents, advocates and Bellevue School District in Washington have started something new. Thanks to a devoted group of parents, educators and students, Bellevue will now have the option of a highly gifted program in high school. In September of 2006, Bellevue School District will be offering their ground-breaking program for profoundly gifted high school students. Students will have the opportunity to earn a prestigious International Baccalaureate Diploma, and take Advanced Placement tests during their sophomore year, rather than the typical junior or senior years. This will open their senior year to other exciting prospects such as seminars and internships. The program will provide students with integrated, self-contained gifted core classes, as well as electives with the general population.
Along with parents and students, Dr. Mike Riley, Superintendent of Bellevue School District, felt his district needed to find something better for this special population. As Dr. Riley explained, “This effort started because a few parents and students informed me that after experiencing a self-contained gifted program in grades 1 through 8, students had difficulty adapting to a regular high school program.”
From the beginning, all stakeholders agreed if this optional program was going to fly it would be because parents and kids found it attractive. In other words, this couldn’t be about what the district wanted; it had to be about what the kids and parents wanted. Thus parents and students were allowed a great deal of discretionary authority. Dr. Riley was comfortable with this arrangement because he was confident the outcome would be first rate; however, he was also very clear on what had to happen from the district’s perspective: they needed a sufficient number of students, realistic programs, school sites with room for the program to grow, final say regarding personnel, and so on. There was very little conflict between parents and school staff. This is not to say there weren’t passionate disagreements about the details of the program, but Dr. Riley was delighted that none allowed the debate to get unprofessional. He believes the collaboration of dedicated, open-minded parents was instrumental. They met frequently, often weekly, until the communication flow was nearly overwhelming. Dr. Riley reassuringly noted it “was a wild but healthy process!” Ronna Weltman, a parent of a gifted student, joined fifty other parents, teachers and the superintendent, in all phases of the project. She also agrees that “the collaborative process might have been the difference between this program making it and not making it. It certainly enhanced the quality of the program.”
While the program will not be offered until this fall, teachers are already developing a challenging curriculum within the context of a normal high school workload, allowing students to enjoy all other cherished aspects of high school, like athletics, clubs and extracurricular activities. The collective voice of Bellevue believes kids shouldn’t have to choose between academic challenge and normal teenage life. Curriculum need not be laborious to be rigorous. While the “one size doesn’t fit all” mantra is common among many administrations, Bellevue School District and its parents fuel this sentiment with much needed action. Like many innovators, Bellevue isn’t limited in vision. The highly gifted high school will serve as a model for rethinking their entire system - proving they are true pioneers. Imagine the positive outcomes if other districts adapt this philosophy!
©2006 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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