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Programs for Advanced Students Discussed by School Committee

The Mendon Upton Regional School Committee heard a report on the opportunities available for advanced students in the district during an April 28 Meeting.

During a previous School Committee Meeting, Member Liana Moore requested that the Committee receive an update on what the district is doing to work with students who are "gifted or talented" or exceeding grade level standards.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Maruszczak opened up the conversation, stating that "in a fiscally constrained environment, we have done some things that have made sense," he said. Each of the building's Principals, in turn, spoke about what is done in their school to differentiate teaching for students who may be at an advanced level.

At Memorial and Clough Elementary Schools, Principals Debra Swain and Janice Gallagher, respectively, said that their schools have programs such as the "Daily 5," which allows for differentiated instruction. The two explained that the "Daily 5" is a classroom management tool, where there is a 5-10 minute whole-classroom meeting, before breaking up into groups where the students can choose one of five tasks including reading to self, reading to a partner, or word work. The Principals said this "empowered students to take ownership in their own learning" while also allowing the teachers to work with the students in small group settings. Swain and Gallagher also reported many of the classrooms practice "flexible grouping" where students are given pre-tests and grouped by level for instruction in certain subjects.

At Miscoe Hill School, Principal Ann Meyer said that students in the 5th and 6th grades also participate in flexible groupings, while students in the 7th and 8th grades can enter into "honors" level courses. Meyer told the Committee that the top 25 percent of students in each subject matter are chosen for the honors program starting in 7th grade, and although the curriculum is the same for both the honors and non-honors classes, the honors classes may have deeper discussions or longer assignments.

Nipmuc High School Principal John Clements said that at the high school advanced students can choose among 16 Advanced Placement (AP) courses with 54 percent of the junior and senior classes taking those courses this year.

Moore voiced concerns that the programs available for advanced level students are not being communicated to the parents. "From a parent perspective, I am not sure that people know that all of this is going on," she said.

Maruszczak said that he agreed that they need to "do a better job at communication." "That is one of our challenges," he said.

Moore also expressed concerns that the district was "diluting" the programs offered to talented and gifted students by not having a program specifically targeted for those students. "I think we fear separating these kids so far above the rest, but I think that there are kids that should be separated so far above the rest because they do have the talent and should be challenged," she said.

Maruszczak challenged Moore's assumptions, however. "You're inferring that by having more students offered AP coursework, the rigor has gone down. That is categorically false," he said.

Moore held firm with her opinion, stating that they would have to "agree to disagree." "It doesn't sound like we are giving advanced children anything different than anyone else has an opportunity to do," she said.


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