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As part of racial equity changes, the St. Louis Park School District will focus on providing gifted and talented programming for all students instead of a select group of students.

At the elementary level, the district would end the traditional gifted and talented program and its Park Fast LANE program, an intervention plan designed to accelerate the academic growth and development of certain students.

District leaders plan to replace the programs with “a new strengths based anti-racist talent development program for all,” according to a presentation to the St. Louis Park School Board Feb. 22.

“Every child, regardless of the school they attend will have talent development education from kindergarten through fifth grade on an almost daily basis,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Patrick Duffy said. “We will be the only district in the state, if not the country, that is providing talent development for every child from kindergarten through fifth grade. We no longer will have just a few children getting gifted education based on test scores, nor will we have some children being told that they don’t have access to gifted education because of deficits.”

The new course would help all students cultivate an awareness of their own learning styles, Duffy said.

“I think it’ll be a very robust class to understand their brilliance,” he said.

Other plans include a new math curriculum for early childhood education and elementary students and a specialist at each elementary school “to provide culturally relevant literacy support” for teachers and classrooms for kindergarten through second grade.

Spanish language specialists would be embedded into classrooms at the district’s traditional elementary schools to provide more bilingual instruction for all students. At Park Spanish Immersion Elementary School, an English specialist would contribute to bilingual education.

The move would lead to a number of staffing changes, including the elimination of two gifted and talented full-time positions and nearly 10 full-time equivalence Park Fast LANE specialist positions at the elementary level. The district would then add eight full-time equivalent talent development specialists with the aid of a grant and four full-time literacy specialist positions.

At the secondary level, the district plans to ensure that every student takes at least one International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement or college course before graduation. Each student would be required to take at least one college math course.

At the same time, the district would cut a 0.6 full-time equivalent gifted and talented position at the middle school and another position at the same level at the high school. All pull-out remedial math and reading intervention programs at each school would be discontinued by fall 2022.

The district would add a half-time algebra coach to aid integration efforts and increase staffing for the Keystone program, which Duffy described as an anti-racist student leadership course that every student at the middle school will take.

“This course will teach every student not only how to engage in courageous conversations about race but how to facilitate courageous conversations about race, how to have a background and a foundation in critical race theory, and how to be active anti-racists as they move into their career at the high school,” Duffy said.

Technology enrichment would be increased at the middle and high schools with each student receiving Chromebook devices this fall. The district would increase recruitment efforts for Students Organized for Anti-Racism, which Duffy said would help “realize our mission of graduating every child as a racially conscious, globally minded leader.”

The district would consider adding new world language courses like Arabic, Ojibwe or Somali by fall 2022.

The plans arose out of a review that included consulting teams with 25 stakeholders, including teachers. At the elementary level, team beliefs declared include, “All students benefit from an education that provides strengths based, culturally relevant enrichment rather than one that intervenes based on deficits and provides remediation.” Another belief states, “Each student has untapped brilliance that can be fostered through gifted education.”

One of the belief statements for older students reads, “That all students can succeed in and should have access to college level courses as an essential path to career and college readiness.”

The statements also reference a desire for racially integrated classrooms that can “help students of all backgrounds gain valuable perspectives and experiences from their peers.”

Board reaction

Board Chair Mary Tomback responded to the plans by revealing that her fifth-grade daughter had been most interested in a gifted-and-talented video during a sixth-grade information night. Because her daughter has not been selected for such programs previously, Tomback said, “I have to find the words to tell her that she will never have that teacher, that she will never get to go to that classroom, that she will never get to participate in those activities.”

Because of the planned changes, Tomback said to team members who studied the district’s curriculum, “You have ensured that I don’t actually have to tell her that, and that no other parent has to have that conversation.”

She thanked design team members for ensuring “that no kid is going to have to feel that sense of, ‘Well I guess I’m neither gifted or talented.’”

Boardmember Ken Morrison said the ideas proposed have been talked about in the past, but he said to team members, “You’re actually putting it down on paper.”

Parents expressed concern about “watering down” the gifted and talented program at a listening session, Boardmember C. Colin Cox noted. But he said a somber presentation last year about the programming outlined challenges in relation to race “and how it’s not really a fair system.”

Some parents may have a difficult time grasping the new system the district has planned because of their own educational experiences, he added.

“We understand that, but also we have to move forward,” Cox said. “It’s the future.”

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