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Janesville School District Challenge Program to get third hearing

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Frank Schultz
April 22, 2013

— A third attempt to expand the Challenge Program for gifted students in the Janesville public schools goes before the school board Tuesday.

The board rejected two previous attempts this spring. The first time was on a tie vote when one member was absent. The board voted 5-4 against the expansion at a subsequent meeting.

The third attempt is different and will put less pressure on next year’s budget, said board member Kristin Hesselbacher, who asked that the proposal be added to Tuesday’s agenda.

Another change will be to the board itself. A new board member, Cathy Myers, will cast her first votes at Tuesday’s meeting.

Myers replaces Peter D. Severson, who had voted against the expansion.

“The need to serve these students hasn’t gone away,” Hesselbacher said Friday.

Hesselbacher said she noted that some board members expressed budgetary concerns, so her proposal is to hire one new teacher to start a third-grade Challenge Program class next September at Madison Elementary School.

The earlier proposals sought two new teachers, one for both the third and fourth grades.

The cost of one new teacher plus added hours for music, art, physical education and Chinese teachers is estimated at $89,280.

Hesselbacher said her hope would be that starting the program in third grade would lead to expansion to the fourth grade in September 2014.

“We wouldn’t want to get it started and then pull it out,” she said.

Madison School had a fourth-grade Challenge Program class this year. That class will become fifth-grade Challenge class next fall.

Challenge Program classes in grades 3-5 already exist at Roosevelt Elementary School, but officials have said that for years the district has not served all the students who qualify for the program.

Officials have argued that the Challenge Program keeps some students involved in school.

“Many gifted students may be so far ahead of their same-age peers that they know more than half of the grade-level curriculum before the school year begins,” according to an administration memo included in the agenda packet for Tuesday. “Their resulting boredom and frustration can lead to low achievement, despondency or unhealthy work habits.”

Hesselbacher noted that the district is evaluating its programs that serve gifted students, which includes more than just the Challenge Program.

Recommendations from that study will be presented to the board in May.

The district knows, however, that the best way to serve students who are the most gifted in the core academic subjects is in the Challenge Program, Hesselbacher said.

Hesselbacher said creating the third-grade Challenge class will mean that teachers around the district will not have to provide specialized lessons for those children’s needs in their mixed-ability classrooms.

“I think it’s a more efficient way to appropriately serve students who qualify for the Challenge Program,” Hesselbacher said.

Hesselbacher indicated this is the last attempt to get the board to change its decision.



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