Helping Baraboo's most gifted students develop to their full potential is about recognizing the abilities and needs of every student - and finding ways to provide each with curriculum material that is stimulating and challenging, school officials say.
That process requires that teachers get professional development opportunities and time to plan.
During a School Board meeting earlier this month, North Freedom Elementary School Principal Julie Cushman reported on the district's work updating its plan for educating its most gifted and talented students.
Cushman, the district's coordinator for gifted and talented services, acknowledged programming for gifted and talented students has been "in the background for a number of years." Now, the school administration, teachers and parents are cooperating to confront the issue.
"We will build capacity and advocate for our gifted students," Cushman said.
All students should grow from where they were at the beginning of the school year, board member Doug Mering said. "There will be a thought process and a philosophy in each classroom that each kid will grow a minimum of one year," he said.
Al Behrman Elementary School second-grade teacher Traci Crouse is someone Cushman points to as a teacher skilled in recognizing her students' abilities and helping them grow to a higher level.
Early one morning her children were working on a spelling exercise called "writing a sailboat." Each of the children worked from one of 15 spelling lists to challenge their abilities and move them forward.
"If thy don't pass that word list, they stay in that word list until they pass it," she said.
To challenge students in math, they devised plans agreed on by the children, their parents and Crouse.
Children could select from a list of nine math exercises. For example: "Keep temperatures for seven days. Create a graph or pictograph to show your results."
"They're activities that practice the skills we're practicing, but at a higher level," Crouse said.
Karen Ailsworth, who with husband David Kinzer has two children at Jack Young Middle School, is part of an informal group of about 50 families concerned that their children receive instruction that challenges their abilities and helps them grow.
Both her children are quick in a variety of subjects, particularly math and science, she said. Often they pick up the curriculum material before the other children and are left to read books on their own until the class moves on to the next unit.
"Can't they be working ahead in math online or science online, something that challenges their brains?" she asked.
Ailsworth noted teachers have a tough job and are expected to do more and more for all of the children in their classrooms.
Opportunities for gifted and talented children need to be routine, Ailsworth said. "It should be child-dependent, not teacher-dependent or parent-dependent," she said. "Some children don't have parents who can advocate for them, so you're losing those kids entirely."
In February, staff from the Waunakee schools will hold a seminar to help Baraboo teachers learn to better identify students who need more challenging instruction, said Lori Mueller, director of curriculum and instruction. Teachers' skill in recognizing the abilities and needs of students helps all kids, but particularly the highest achievers.
Plus, Mueller said, the Wednesday early release days offer teachers time to work together adapting lesson plans to the needs of advanced students.
"We have time structured at the different buildings to enrich for students who are showing us they need more with their assessments," Mueller said.
She agreed with Ailsworth that providing what gifted children need should not be a matter of what a parent fights for or a particular teacher is able to provide.
"The gifted and talented plan is starting to address that," Mueller said. "We can't wait for parents and students themselves to advocate for their needs."
Ailsworth said she is hopeful Baraboo's gifted and talented children will get more of what they need to excel. "I'm optimistic most of the teaches and administrators I've worked with are really for this," she said. "I'm worried because it's an unfunded (state) mandate - they're not going to be able to go as far as everybody would like as far as programming."
If you go
• What: Baraboo Parents Advocacy Group for Gifted and Talented Students meeting
• When: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 6
• Where: Jack Young Middle School auditorium, 1531 Draper