Janesville School Board could expand gifted student program

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Frank Schultz
Monday, February 25, 2013

— A program for gifted elementary students that was expanded this year could be expanded again.

The Janesville School Board could vote Tuesday on a recommendation to expand the Challenge Program at Madison Elementary School to the third grade and to fund the new fourth-grade program at Madison next fall.

The proposal faced opposition from board member Kevin Murray but no one else at a board committee meeting Wednesday.

Murray said he didnít like attracting students from outside the district with what he sees as more services than the average student gets.

Itís a want, not a need, Murray said.

Committee Chairwoman Kristin Hesselbacher strongly disagreed.

The Challenge Program is analogous to special education, which provides services those students need, Hesselbacher said.

ďI donít think itís an extra program. I donít think itís a special program,Ē Hesselbacher said. ďI think itís just one more program that students need.Ē

Board President Bill Sodemann agreed that studentsí needs on both ends should be addressed, and he said providing the program closer to west-side homes is important.

Sodemann said it would be a shame not to develop the studentsí talents, given what they could potentially produce for society.

The Challenge Program for years had been in the fourth and fifth grades at one elementary school.

Roosevelt has hosted the program most recently.

The school board decided last year to expand the program to fourth grade at Madison Elementary School and to establish a third-grade Challenge Program at Roosevelt.

This yearís fourth-graders at Madison will move on to the fifth-grade Challenge Program next fall, so the board will be asked to approve the hiring of another teacher to continue the fourth-grade program, for a total of two new teachersóone for third grade and one for fourth.

The maximum cost for the third- and fourth-grade Challenge Program at Madison next year would be $184,320, according to a memo prepared for the board.

Officials said students entering the program from outside the district would increase district revenue, offsetting the cost.

Murray said he didnít believe there would be a cost benefit, and he would like to see the overall budget picture before committing to the expansion.

ďI donít know where this fits (in budget priorities). Itís not on the top of my list,Ē Murray said.

One argument for the expansion is that 64 students qualified for the third-grade Challenge Program for next year.

Twenty-five of those will attend the program at Roosevelt School. The rest must await the boardís decision.

Also, 52 students qualified for the fourth-grade program, and 25 of those will go to Roosevelt. The remaining 27 also are on a waiting list.

The administrationís memo argues that students who qualify for the program but who are turned away are ďdisenfranchisedĒ because they donít receive the services most appropriate for their needs.

The administration reports an increase in district revenue of $243,180 because of students who have entered the Challenge Program from other districts or parochial schools and from the siblings of those students who also transferred to Janesville public schools, a total of 35 students.

The memo notes that the school board has set a goal of increasing enrollment.

If the expansion was approved, that would lead to an expansion of the middle school Challenge Program, as well.

Challenge students now attend Edison Middle School in grades 6-8. Franklin Middle School, which is next door to Madison Elementary, would begin offering the Challenge Program when the current Madison students reach sixth grade.

The committee forwarded the issue to the board without a recommendation.

Last updated: 8:07 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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