Applications surge for highly gifted program

Logo for Denver Public SchoolsApplications for Denver Public Schools’ Highly Gifted and Talented magnet program have surged, doubling the last two years over previous years.

In 2008-09 and 2009-10, DPS officials received between 1,600 and 1,700 applications for the program that enables qualified students to attend schools with special programs for gifted students.

In the years prior to 2008, DPS received about 800 applicants each year.

The number of students qualifying for the magnet programs at eight elementary schools and one middle school has held steady, with 200 to 300 new students identified as HGT each year.

Catherine Gonzales, director of the DPS Department of Gifted and Talented, believes the spike in applications may be related to both increased outreach efforts and the ailing economy. Some families who may have opted for private schools in the past are now seeking out public options.

“We’re definitely doing a lot more outreach through schools and community meetings,’’ Gonzales said. “All children deserve to have quality programs that meet their needs.”

Related story
Read the main story, “Ethnic imbalances persist in gifted programs.”

That outreach is not yet reflected in an ethnic breakdown of the HGT program obtained by Education News Colorado. In 2009-10, white students made up 75 percent of HGT enrollment though they are only 25 percent of DPS’ overall student body.

Gonzales said the district is also considering expanding its definitions of gifted to include children who are gifted in leadership or the performing arts, two state categories of gifted for which DPS does not yet screen.

“We’re looking at expanding portfolios,” Gonzales said. “If children are second language learners or children at risk, we need to explore ways to find them. We’re hoping that we will increase our diversity. The goal is to mirror the district with our programs.”

The increased interest in the program and a plan to streamline the district’s choice offerings have spurred DPS officials to push up the application deadline to Oct. 22, from early November last year and December in years past.

DPS officials hope the earlier deadline will help parents find out whether their children have qualified for the magnet program as early as January.

Parents will then be able to decide whether to opt for the HGT magnet programs or participate in the regular school choice process which takes place in January.

“Right around the first of the year, parents of kids who qualify will receive a packet in the mail, saying, ‘Congratulations. Here’s how your child scored. He or she has been qualified for HGT. Now it’s your turn to make a decision,’ ’’ said Shannon Fitzgerald, head of school choice for DPS’ strategy office.

In the past, Fitzgerald said the district automatically assumed that families wanted their children placed in magnet programs. In some cases, parents were merely having their children tested to get more information. In other cases, children were placed in one gifted magnet program when their parents preferred another.

“Now we’ll tell them: ‘Here’s your portfolio of options. These are all the different programs throughout the district. At certain schools, you’ll get enrollment priority and transportation.’ ’’ Fitzgerald said.

Parents can then mark their preferences for any HGT program in the city. They won’t be guaranteed their first choice, but Fitzgerald hopes the district will better match parent desires with available programs.

“It’s letting the market inform us about where our programs should be. We need to understand what the market looks like. We need the data to make better decisions,’’ Fitzgerald said.

Earlier notification should also enable families to participate in the regular choice process if their child doesn’t qualify for the HGT magnet programs or if they want to explore other schools.

“We’re allowing them more access to more district programs,’’ Fitzgerald said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”