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Meet the 2011 CISD School Board Candidates

April 6, 2011

The CGA posed five questions to the 3 candidates running for the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees this Spring.  Tracy Fisher and Amy Dungan are running for Place 5 while Thom Hulme is running unopposed for his current position representing Place 4.  The following are their responses to the questions.

Early Voting

May 2-7 (Mon-Sat) 8am – 5pm

May 8 (Sun) 1-6pm

May 9-10 (Mon-Tues) 7am-7pm

Election Day – Saturday, May 14 7am-7pm

Early voting locations will be at Coppell Town Center and the Valley Ranch library as well as other locations in Dallas County.  On Election Day, you must vote in your precinct.  To find your precinct, visit the Dallas County Elections website.

1. How do you think CISD has done with gifted education and what do you think they could do better?

Amy Dungan – Place 5 Candidate

I have been very pleased with the opportunities all three of my children have received in the CISD Gifted and Talented program since they were in elementary school.  I believe the district consistently investigates new and creative ways to ensure not only GT students but all students in the district achieve academic success.  Coppell ISD administrators and teachers look for ways to engage the unique individual needs of GT students by offering a variety of course options at the high school level, from AP, to Dual Credit, GT specific, IB, and project based learning and many more.  Students are encouraged to find courses that fit their learning styles.

The recent exciting changes in the middle school GT program are allowing GT students time and creativity to explore and learn at an accelerated pace.  Programs incorporated into the core curriculum for these students such as the Texas Performance Standards Projects, based on the current TEKS, allows children to us critical and creative thinking skills, presentation technology and techniques and collaborative efforts to achieve goals.  I feel these changes in the middle school are important in helping to better prepare all students for the rigors at the high school level and beyond.

Having Challenge specific teachers at each elementary campus are important to the educational needs of GT students as well as classroom teachers allowing class time for similar learners to work together on their problem solving and critical thinking skills at a pace equal to their needs.  Challenge University provides GT students the opportunity to meet and learn in groups of their peers to further enhance their learning experience.  With  10,000 students in Coppell ISD, I feel the teachers and staff work hard to engage all students at all levels, and will continue to look for unique and creative ways to ensure all students receive a quality education that meets their learning needs.

Tracy Fisher – Place 5 Candidate

CISD has made great strides the past six years in Coppell middle schools by offering GT sections in all core classes vs. only language arts.  CHS has grown to ten official core courses for GT students (4 English, 3 science, 2 math, and 1 history).  I expect CHS will continue to offer more of these core courses at a GT level.

*    The differentiation necessary because of fewer students at New Tech, IB, and CHS Academies are not reflected in these numbers.

**  Elementary schools vary in their grouping of GT students.  Many split the GT kids up equally between all sections of each grade.

GT instruction at most elementary schools, however, looks much the same from the outside as it has in the past.  Each school has a GT specialist who teaches the Challenge pull out program.  More work is being done in some schools through differentiation in the regular classroom often with support from the specialists. There is still much more work to be done with grouping and curriculum to optimize the learning of the young academically gifted.  While I have confidence that the momentum is swinging towards improving the annual educational growth of these students, I fear the new STAAR testing system could set this progress back.  Stay tuned.

CISD needs to continue to encourage the elementary school principals, counselors, and their lead teachers to support and direct the educational needs of all students, including the academically gifted.  Sometimes students are still grouped in school without regard for academic needs because of other more pressing concerns like equally distributing behavior or high test scorers.

Finally, CISD should persist in monitoring existing GT classes to ensure they are truly GT courses.

Thom Hulme – Place 4 (unopposed)

With such a big population of identified GT kids in the district it only makes sense CISD puts as much emphasis as possible to support this group.  CISD believes in these kids but there is always more that can be done through continuing education, financial support and getting our GT program more “on the map”.  I would like to see over the next years our GT programs continue to grow and be supported through administration and staff.

2. What is your experience with gifted education?

Amy Dungan – Place 5 Candidate

I am a parent of 3 very different children with very different learning styles who have all participated in the CISD Gifted and Talented program since they were in elementary school.  I was also the Challenge Representative for Mockingbird Elementary and Middle School East.  As a parent, I am very pleased with the education my children received in GT classes both at the middle school and high school level in Math, Science, English and History.  I have been impressed with how impassioned their teachers are and how they challenge the students to explore new concepts and ideas.

Tracy Fisher – Place 5 Candidate

I am a parent of two academically gifted students and the founder and past president of Coppell Gifted Association.  I have been a member of Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) for more than five years and a member of National Association for Gifted Children in the past, as well as have attended annual professional conferences at both.  I have also attended TAGT parent conferences where I have been a speaker for the past three years.

I understand a great deal about gifted education. Besides discovering that most educators get very little information to prepare them to teach the academically gifted, I have also learned that reaching a student where they are academically is also a parent responsibility.  All parents must enrich their sons and daughters, but gifted children especially benefit from academic enrichment outside of school such as music lessons, language lessons, chess clubs, math clubs, Destination Imagination, etc.  Parents play a key role in their children’s education.

Thom Hulme – Place 4 (unopposed)

I have a gifted daughter who currently attends Middle School North and has come up through the GT plan offered by the district.  In part to GT, she has been able to take high school courses this year,  opening the door for better pursuit of an education she can tailor for herself next year as she enters high school.  I will not say this has been without some struggle but it has opened doors for her learning that I think she is more and more being able to appreciate.  I have also served and been a member of Coppell’s Gifted Association for the last 4 years and have gone to several state and local educational and support functions and events.

3.  How might students in the CISD benefit from the findings of the national report released in 2004, “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students”?

In 2004, a national report made waves by challenging current thinking on how to best educate America’s best and brightest students. “A Nation Deceived:  How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students” identifies accelerated learning as “the easiest and most effective way” to help gifted students. The report offers convincing evidence that gifted students thrive when they are allowed to learn at an accelerated pace, whether by taking AP/GT classes, skipping grades, or taking some classes above their grade level. See the one-page executive summary: http://nationdeceived.org/index.html.  Recently, the authors published results from an online survey conducted to determine the impact A Nation Deceived has had after three years. You can see those results at: http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/Nation_Deceived/Get_Report.aspx.

Amy Dungan – Place 5 Candidate

It is important that Coppell ISD continue to look for creative and innovative ways to thoroughly engage all students in the learning process in order to meet or exceed their educational potential.  According to the above referenced national report, there are various types of acceleration opportunities for bright or gifted students, many of which are currently offered by this district.  These include PreAP/GT, AP, AP/GT, IB, Credit By Exam and Dual Credit courses at the middle school and high school level, as well as dedicated Challenge teachers and Challenge University at the elementary level.  Students with unique, gifted or academic abilities have tested out of courses in the younger grades and have been accelerated to meet their learning needs.  I believe the article accurately addresses the serious concerns facing some of the districts brightest students and offers suggestions and ideas that should continue to be evaluated by teachers and staff of Coppell ISD.   It is important that all students in CISD are given the opportunities to maximize their learning potential.

Tracy Fisher – Place 5 Candidate

About three years ago I ordered and distributed copies of “A Nation Deceived…” to the CISD Board of Trustees during a monthly board meeting.  There is empirical evidence in this study and its follow up report that students should be taught at the level they have reached academically without regard to social pressures (i.e., child is “immature,” too small, etc.)

So many benefits result when any student is challenged continuously in school.  They learn that school is a place to learn, not to wait.  They understand better how they are different and their confidence increases when they are allowed to flourish.  They get to college and don’t melt down when challenged for the first time because they were always challenged in school.  I could talk about this for days…

CISD would benefit from continued discussion about acceleration.  I know that societal pressures cause most people to simply dismiss any thoughts about acceleration so this is an up hill battle, but it still warrants discussion from educators who are the true experts on teaching our children.

Of course, sometimes acceleration is not the answer and more rigor in the current course level is key. There may not be one answer for all but depends on the student and teacher teaching the course.  So much is teacher dependent and without accountability for academic growth without a ceiling (TAKS performance is the current standard), it is difficult to really know how much progress is being made in the classroom.

Thom Hulme – Place 4 (unopposed)

This is something finally being addressed to a very small degree in Austin.  It appears legislature is finally giving school districts the ability to think outside the box.   This is critical in addressing the issues raised in “A Nation Deceived:” The ability for us to raise the bar with high performing learners is finally being treated as something legislature will tolerate and allow for us to monitor locally. Legislature is more accepting and supportive, through the SBOE, understanding the practicality of accelerating learners so they aren’t bored in the classroom and can find the level to which they can move and are inspired to move to.

The caution is that “faster isn’t always better”.  It needs to be understood by all parents the benefits their children can derive from moving on once course material is learned while being sure their learner understands the material in depth.  There is also the social maturity aspect that goes along with grouping and the acceleration and advanced learning programs. It is also the responsibility of the parent to support and understand what acceleration means and the commitment everyone has to make when employing the research and strategy presented in “Deceived”.

4.  What is your opinion of ability grouping at CISD elementary schools?

Ability grouping is defined as the act of putting together students with similar skills for instruction in a particular subject area such as math, science, or reading.  This happens in Coppell middle and high schools, but in elementary schools, heterogeneous groupings prevail.   Research indicates that gifted learners must be given stimulating educational experiences appropriate to their level of ability if they are to realize their potential, and we know that each person has the right to learn and to be provided challenges for learning at the most appropriate level where growth proceeds most effectively. There is also evidence that gifted students learn best when grouped with their intellectual peers.  Many parents complain when their gifted child is in elementary that they are not truly “challenged” at school, and that they are gifted 24/7.

Amy Dungan – Place 5 Candidate

I am not an expert in this field and would have to defer to teachers and administration for a thorough evaluation of this matter.  However, personally I feel it is important that all students learn to work in a variety of environments and with all types of learning styles and personalities.  So as a parent of GT students I believe involving GT students with special needs, and non GT students is an important part of their overall educational experience.  It is also important that the individual needs of these students are met, whether through more challenging curriculum or their varied learning styles.  In elementary having a time for similar learners to gather periodically in the classrooms, in pull out specific programs and through Challenge University are great ways for students to further enhance their educational experience..  The recent strategic plans by the district for middle school and both high schools include offering students more course options and project based learning so all students can find the learning environment that best fits their learning style.

Tracy Fisher – Place 5 Candidate

I strongly support academic ability grouping.  It is a more productive way to teach students, and they learn more appropriately grouped into classes by ability.  This can occur at certain times of the day by subject, like during the math hour or the reading hour (which many schools do anyway), or during the entire day (whole cluster class).  Research and best practices regarding ability grouping are available for our educators and their advocates.  For the record, I also strongly support athletic ability grouping, fine arts ability grouping, etc.

Thom Hulme – Place 4 (unopposed)

The National Associate for Gifted Children supports grouping as do I.  The research reflects that grouping helps children in achievement and their enrichment.  The positives do out weight the negatives but there needs to be more education (especially to the community on the whole) along with the proper training of instructors to make this happen successfully.  The DEIC and our future strategic planning committees need to make this a priority as it has many merits but as with all change there have to be “baby steps” and the proper planning to be successful.

 

5.  How would you address the funding gap for continuing education needs in GT?

Approximately 2,000 students (about 20%) have been identified as gifted in the CISD.  Preparing teachers to educate gifted children is largely a local responsibility as it is barely covered in curriculum provided by most teacher colleges. The district budget earmarked for GT teacher education is less than $4,000 annually – a mere fraction of the overall teacher continuing education budget.

Amy Dungan – Place 5 Candidate

Like all programs in the district, funding for GT will be dependent upon numerous factors over the next few years, including first and foremost, decisions made by our state legislature.  I believe the Gifted and Talented program, like many others in the district, are a vital part of the education process and must continue.  I will work hard to make sure that Educational Funding remains a top priority for our State Legislature and that programs such as these continue.

Tracy Fisher – Place 5 Candidate

This is my favorite question and one I feel uniquely qualified to answer.  CGA currently provides as much as $15,000 each year for educator training – or three times the amount that CISD spends.  If students are grouped by ability, we don’t have to train EVERYONE.  The old mantra: train everyone in GT so that everyone will be qualified to teach GT students doesn’t necessarily work for kids and is expensive.  It is a way to stay “in compliance” while providing a less than effective education for many.  These kids are gifted 24/7.   We need to redirect the education dollars we spend on them instead of adding more money.

Thom Hulme – Place 4 (unopposed)

This is the most perplexing and frustrating question we face with our GT population.  Basically the legislature is saying “we don’t need appropriations for several groups and one of those singled out is possibly GT”.  It is a sad state of affairs when the legislature puts such low value on such an important part of many district’s emphasis to raise the bar.  The only way I see to address this funding gap is to work through raising local dollars dedicated to this segment of our student population.  We are being more and more limited in time allowed to properly provide continuing education and of course the budgets are more restrictive in supporting travel and lodging for these instructional events.  Local support through this association’s stipend program will be critical to the school district.

General information provided by the candidates

For more information on Amy Dungan visit www.amydungan.com.

Please visit TracyFisher.org for a closer look at her unique qualifications.

____________________________________________________________

CGA does not support any candidate and offers these responses as a service to its members to help you make an informed decision on Election Day.  Regardless of who you support, please get out there and have your voice heard on May 14.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 5:26 pm

    This is really helpful, particularly the ones where the candidates actually said what they thought rather than giving a warm fuzzy PC answer. 🙂 LOVE that GT is on the radar for any school board candidate.

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