Fair Lawn Considers Revamping Gifted and Talented Program to Prioritize Equity and Mental Health

In a recent Fair Lawn School Board meeting, sweeping changes were considered for the district’s K-6 Gifted and Talented program. The proposed reforms stemmed from a comprehensive educational consultant’s review and a mandate from the Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act (SGTEA) signed by Governor Murphy in 2020. Both sources highlighted the need for an inclusive identification process, enhanced service tiers, and a heightened emphasis on students’ mental health.

Consultant Meredith Thomas initiated the conversation underscoring a transition from a “label” mindset to an approach focusing on individual student needs. She urged the board to concentrate on a growth mindset and qualitative data, which includes parent feedback and student work samples. The board’s alignment with new APA findings regarding the malleability of IQ until age 11 was emphasized, suggesting a dynamic and evolving identification process.

Thomas drew a distinction between giftedness and high achievement. She shed light on the emotional challenges gifted students often face, pointing out, “gifted students are twice as likely as their non-gifted chronological peers to attempt suicide.” The board acknowledged these concerns and aimed to address both academic and emotional needs cohesively.

A major structural shift was proposed: transitioning from the current four-tiered system to a more streamlined three-tiered model. This includes, first, whole class enrichment for all K-6 students. Second, pull-out academic enrichment targeting 10-20% of students. And, third, specialized G&T pull-out service catering to 5-7% of students with intensive aptitude and emotional needs.

The board emphasized fluidity between these tiers, allowing students to experience services from multiple levels. They’ve set a preliminary rollout for these changes by Fall 2024, ensuring flexibility in the timeline to maintain program quality.

Apart from academic restructurings, the meeting highlighted untapped potential in arts and music. Board member Rita Fayvelevich championed the integration of arts within the gifted program. She also moved to publicize the audit report on the school’s website, arguing the public’s right to access information funded by their taxes. As an extension, there were suggestions to introduce specialized classrooms for high-achieving students, resembling AP classes in high schools, and discussions about differentiated teaching strategies.

The board also expressed commitment toward refining the identification process to address potential inequities and ensure transparency. Suggestions of discontinuing external testing due to inherent inequities were also on the table. Despite these contemplations, Fair Lawn Board received commendation in audit reports as one of New Jersey’s leading districts. Yet, there was a collective understanding of the room for improvement, especially in elementary grades.

The meeting culminated with Superintendent DeFranco emphasizing the students’ centrality in the decision-making process, urging patience and flexibility during the transition.

The next session is slated for September 28th.

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