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Continued: School for gifted back on the table

  • Article by: SARAH LEMAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 24, 2008 - 12:24 AM

Kari Klima lives in Prior Lake, but she sends her son to fourth grade at Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley, and her sixth-grade daughter spent last year commuting to a school in Inver Grove Heights.

Klima is fairly active in the public schools near her home: She's treasurer of a parent group, and she runs a foundation that raises money for the Prior Lake-Savage school district. Yet she has ended up sending her children away, she said, because both of them are gifted and need more classroom stimulation than neighborhood schools have been able to provide.

A cluster of parents, including Klima, hope that may change soon. Starting in January, a committee of parents, teachers and district leaders will consider reviving a plan to open a small gifted academy at WestWood Elementary in Prior Lake next fall.

The academy would be a school-within-a-school consisting of one or more classrooms with about 25 academically gifted students who would spend the whole day together, said Superintendent Sue Ann Gruver. The committee is focusing on options for students in grades three through five, but a pilot program next year could be limited to one grade, she said.

The district would look to hire teachers with specialized training in gifted education and use lessons tailored to those students. "It's really about acknowledging that they have a different way of learning," Gruver said.

The district considered opening the academy in January 2008 after a committee recommended it and families showed strong interest, she said. Then plans got derailed when a levy referendum failed a year ago, and the school board decided it would be prudent to wait until the district was in a stronger financial position.

But after November's election, when voters renewed $7 million and approved an additional $1.65 million in annual levy funds, the district is bringing the gifted program back to the table.

The program would cost little to start, and it could make sense to launch it next year because many students and teachers will get shuffled around anyway when the district opens a new elementary school, Gruver said.

The school board will likely decide whether to move ahead with the academy in February or March, she said.

WestWood's academy, if it opens, wouldn't be the only new south-metro program for gifted students next fall. The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district also plans to launch a gifted magnet program at Harriet Bishop Elementary in Savage.

Not every district has a gifted academy; the Atheneum program in Inver Grove Heights and Bloomington's Dimensions Academy stand out in the south metro area. But Gruver said she believes the Prior Lake-Savage district has grown enough for the district to open its own program.

Klima, for one, said she's excited about an academy that could bring students back to their home district. Among those kids: her son, Skylar, whom she sent to Cedar Park for the school's special focus on science, technology, engineering and math. Skylar had a great teacher last year, but her son "had decided he wasn't interested in learning anymore."

If gifted students go unchallenged, they often get bored and disengage from school; "some of these children are just ... checking out," Klima said.

Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016

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