GT Secondary Challenge Orientation

Good evening, and welcome to the annual secondary challenge orientation meeting for parents of gifted and talented students.

The Katy ISD Board of Trustees, of which I am a member, appreciates you and your children, and hopes to serve both of you in the best possible manner.  I appreciate being asked to be the one to welcome you.

Before we begin our program, I would like to take advantage of my time here to say a few words.   

You  have braved the rain and are here tonight because you care about your children, and you are interested in what they will be doing in the Challenge program for the rest of the year.  I have sat where you sit and thought the thoughts you are having now.  I moved to this district in 1981 with high expectations for my gifted and talented sons.  These nice folks sitting here have put up with me when I was not the happiest parent in town with regard to the Challenge program.  I am, however, happy now  to tell you that things have changed for the better in the twelve years I have been here, but it was not an easy task to evoke that change.

When I first moved here, my oldest son had been identified in the Houston ISD as a GT student, but since he was in the sixth grade when we arrived in Katy, he was left out because the last time students were identified for the Challenge program in Katy ISD was at the end of the fifth grade, and we had missed that identification time.  As a parent, I was terribly frustrated for the next 6 years because he was denied entry into the program.  When he was a senior taking honors physics, the PACE program was started, and every other student in his class was eligible as they were all identified as GT.  My only consolation came the first six weeks of school, and my son had the only A in that physics class. I knew he should have been included in the GT program. 

My frustration continued with my youngest son who was identified as a GT student as a third grader at Nottingham (in KISD at that time, that was the earliest one could gain admission to the program!).  Over the years we saw good GT teachers and bad, with the good ones usually being promoted out of the program to become administrators. I was unable to sit still and let things happen without becoming involved.  I bugged Mrs. Holland to death until she finally put me on the GT parent support committee.  I helped start the Katy Parents of Gifted and Talented Students Parent Group and was the first "first vice-president).  I wrote scathing letters when I thought my child was not being served properly. I  sat through this meeting one night when no one would answer a single question from parents. I  insisted that we needed a written curriculum for the Challenge program but that was a long time coming.  I even signed up to substitute in the program for almost an entire semester in 1984 at Mayde Creek Junior High, just so I could see the program from the “inside.” 

My efforts and those of many other GT parents were not ignored. Things have changed in the Katy ISD gifted and talented program.  We have administrators in place who really care now what you think.  We have a written curriculum.  Your questions get answers now.  I mentioned the past so that you will understand that frustration is par for the course when you are a GT parent, and so that you can see the changes that have occurred.

Don’t give in to your frustrations and just give up; there are things you can do. I would urge you to be just like me.  I saw my job as being two-fold:  I was an advocate for my children and at the same time I tried to work within the system to improve the program of the schools.

The whole world thinks that your child is undeserving because your child has the advantage of intelligence.  Do not bend to that opinion.  Your child deserves MORE because he or she is intelligent.  Our country will not survive and continue its superiority if we do not nurture these children and provide them with a premier education. 

The leaders of our country are on the verge of doing an about face, and it is long overdue.  A recently released report from the Committee for Economic Development, a committee composed of the leaders of industry, published in September a report called Putting Learning First:  Governing and Managing the Schools for High Achievement.  Such statements as “we have been asking the schools to do too many different things, and as a result, very few are being done well.”  and “the primary mission of the public schools should be learning and achievement.  Schools should solidly ground students in language and mathematical skills and provide them with a broad base of knowledge in subjects such as literature, science, foreign languages, history, social science and the arts.  Students should know how to use and apply this knowledge.  Academic course work for all students should be rigorous and substantial.”  and “...schools are not social service institutions, and they should not be asked to solve all our nation’s social ills and cultural conflicts.  Other state and community agencies, not the schools should pay for and provide needed social services.”

These words make me smile.  I have been saying these same things for ten years. If these words are heeded, perhaps the pendulum will swing back where it belongs and our gifted and talented students will receive the attention, the funding and the education they deserve.

Let me encourage you, then, in the meantime, while the world of education comes to its senses, to be advocates.  Provide your children with everything they need, to learn and to be successful. Demand that they receive an "appropriate" education.  The competition they face now is the least they will ever see in their lifetime, so make sure they see the bigger picture. Don’t spend your money on a car for them while they are in high school; they don’t need one and will get along much better without one; let them share yours and instead give them your attention and support and the chance to see the educated world. Spend your money providing them with opportunity. Help them to collect all those things they want to collect.  Take them to see plays and operas; visit our country’s museums and parks; nurture those individual talents that will make them special; see that they receive private instruction if they have a talent; make sure they read; buy them books; go to the library; take them to a university library; help them learn to do research; make sure they take typing and learn to use computers; get them on to the Internet; make them take the SAT and the ACT every year beginning in the 7th grade; during their junior and senior years, break your neck and your bank account getting them into the best university you can.  Go in the back door if you have to, but get them in.

I am living proof that you can do all these things. I did most of these things, and I have two successful and happy  children of whom I am very proud, but they would not have been successful without their parents’ support.  I don’t regret having written any of those awful letters.  They got people to rethink what they were doing. You must say what needs to be said. Organize and speak with a loud, collective voice. These are the most important things you can do for your gifted and talented children.

I support our GT program as does the rest of our Board.  I am looking for a superintendent who is committed to this program.  I have named Johanna Craig [she was the president of the KPGTS] as one of my three choices for membership on the Community Committee for selection of the superintendent.  Advocacy for the Challenge program will be much easier for our Board and our administrators if we have lots of parents backing us.  I hope we can count on you.   

(I received lots of applause, and the administration asked for a copy of what I had said and printed it in the GT newsletter. I truly did believe that the District (probably because I was on the Board) was trying to improve the GT program, and I was trying to be supportive.  Too bad I was also so naive!  The District still short changes these students, and they still don't get it, and they still try to act like they are doing more than they do.)