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State of the CISD GT Program — 2008

April 21, 2008

Presented by Todd Kettler, Director of Coppell ISD Advanced Academics, April 2, 2008

“Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great.”

Jim Collins

Good to GreatDuring his presentation, Todd Kettler used the bestselling book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t,  as a catalyst to discuss the state of Gifted Education in Coppell ISD. The Coppell ISD GT program is known as a good program throughout the area and state, and there are many accomplishments and successes that support this opinion. Some of these achievements are:

  • Challenge and Hands on Equations classes at elementary level
  • Initiation of individualized plans for elementary GT students (grade 1)
  • Model middle school program that other districts come to observe and hope to emulate
  • GT classes in English, Science, and Math at high school
  • Success on AP exams
  • SAT scores above 1800
  • ACT scores above 25
  • 5-10 National Merit Finalists a year
  • Attendance and success of gifted students at selective colleges and universities
  • Development of phenomenal gifted and talented services at New Tech HS
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Program begins in 2009
  • Participation and success in all types of academic competitions in elementary, middle & high schools
  • Coppell Gifted Association, one of the strongest parent groups in the North Texas

“So we are good, but are we great? What will it take to move from a good GT program to a great GT program in Coppell ISD?” Should we focus on “where we are or where we are going?”

Before the CISD GT program is evaluated for greatness, it is important to “confront the brutal facts of our current reality.” While the state of Texas requires an evaluation of GT programs, the process is open-ended and superficial. In fact, most GT programs in Texas fail to meet the “acceptable” standards which are outlined in the Texas State Plan. However, there is little motivation to meet those standards because the Texas Education Agency (TEA) doesn’t hold anyone accountable.

To seriously evaluate the CISD GT program, we need to develop a “rigorous program evaluation” which will require open, honest dialogue and debate that begins with questions and not answers.

A great GT program requires a focus on “doing a few things at a ‘best in the world’ standard rather than doing many things pretty well.” This is known as the hedgehog concept which was coined by Jim Collins in his 2001 book (see above).

A hedgehog is a peculiar creature that looks like a genetic mutation but is extremely effective at protecting itself from predators. It rolls into a tight ball with its sharp quills wrapped around itself, and therefore, is impenetrable and secure.

To become great, the CISD GT program needs to take on this mentality by considering these questions: What can we be the best in the world at? What drives our engine? What is our mission? What are we deeply passionate about? The process of developing a hedgehog concept takes commitment, dialogue, discussion, evaluation, and can be an arduous process.

“Moving from good to great is like beginning to set a flywheel in motion.” A flywheel is a giant, heavy wheel that is very difficult to push at the onset but when it is pushed consistently and over a long period of time, it reaches its breakthrough point. At that point, it rolls faster and faster with its own momentum, building upon earlier pushing efforts.

Building CISD’s GT program into great is like pushing that flywheel. We need to “build our momentum with our current and future successes” until we reach our breakthrough point and continue to push to maintain our greatness.

This will not happen overnight, and it may not happen in the next few years or even while our children are in school. Nonetheless, it is important that we take our time because “programs that attempt to move immediately into greatness without the hard work of pushing the flywheel  often find disappointing results then lurch back and forth between old (unsuccessful) ideas and new ideas.”

We want to avoid this doom loop and realize “it never leads to great even though lots of good organizations do it.” We have to want to work harder than other GT programs, appreciating that this is a gradual journey that does not transpire overnight.

The secret to becoming a great GT program is no secret at all. State and national standards for exemplary GT programs are readily available. Numerous research publications about how to nurture and develop the talents of gifted students are abundant. There are countless books that explain the best practices in gifted education. We simply need to seek this information out and apply it to the CISD GT program.

Developing a great GT program in CISD will require the courage to honestly evaluate, try something new, and let go of what needs to go. We will also need commitment from administrators, teachers, parents, and students to work together toward a common vision of excellence, to provide appropriate resources, and to support professional development.

Accountability to our shared vision of excellence, to the standards described by the state and national organizations, and to our students who deserve an opportunity to thrive under our watch will also be very important in this process.

Even after we attain greatness, we will have to continue to work hard to remain great as “greatness is fluid, never static.” Yet, with all of us pushing the flywheel in unison, with our hedgehog concept in mind, how can the CISD GT program be anything but great?

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