2 Steamboat school mandates to change after funding cuts

Local officials say education won’t be affected by program changes

— Two federally and state mandated programs’ staff were cut for next Steamboat Springs school year as the district worked to address a budget deficit, but school officials say education won’t be affected.

The district reduced or eliminated 34 staff positions as a result of a reduction in state funding, fewer fund board gifts and increased expenses.

The Gifted and Talented Ed­­ucation program was reduced from four teachers to two. And the English Language Learner program originally was reduced from four teachers to three, but the district had enough remaining funding to restore a half-time staff position.

“The staff cuts were not a direct impact of the budget cuts,” Superintendent Shalee Cun­­ningham said Wednesday. “I think revamping the programs would have happened anyway.”

After attending state and national conventions in the fall about the operation of similar programs, gifted and talented teacher Tracy Stoddard said discussions to change the program began.

The greatest change is occurring at Steamboat Springs Mid­­dle School, where about 70 students have been identified through testing to participate in the gifted and talented program. Instead of spending only about 45 minutes receiving the program’s instruction, the students will spend 3 1/2 hours a day together being taught by three teachers who will instruct them in the humanities such as Language Arts, math and science.

At the elementary school, in addition to 20 to 45 minutes of direct daily instruction, Stoddard said gifted and talented teachers will assist classroom teachers to provide materials and to make sure the instruction is appropriate for gifted and talented students.

Stoddard said at the high school, she and Howard would continue working with students to create Advanced Learning Plans, which are used to steer gifted and talented students toward their goals. In addition, Stoddard said a parent group was created to help parents understand the needs of their gifted and talented students.

There was some controversy during discussions involving some parents who attended meetings of the Steamboat Springs School Board and Education Fund Board early in the budget process. There was a recommendation to shift funding from the English Language Learner program to support others.

Tatiana Achcar, executive director of Integrated Commun­ity, said the program successfully integrated students whose first language is not English into the school. Achcar said it also benefits students whose native language is English.

“Parents want children to be more exposed to other languages and cultures,” she said. “They’re attacking the one program that is intended to support the children who represent that multiculturalism, bilingualism that the county supports.”

The program next year will focus more on collaborative teaching. Last year, students in the program districtwide spent 30 to 90 minutes receiving direct instruction. That won’t change much next year.

During a presentation to the School Board late last month, Eng­lish Lang­uage Learner teacher Tif­fany Geb­hardt said the national teaching trend is moving away from one-on-one instruction to providing some assistance to classroom teachers.

“I think they’ll be enhanced,” Cunningham said about the programs. “We’ve totally revamped business around the way we do (gifted and talented), and ELL is right behind it. I think it was a long time coming and well overdue.”

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