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Duval Schools Figuring Out How To Expand Middle School Gifted Programming

Cyd Hoskinson

Duval County Public Schools is rethinking its approach to gifted education. 

According to Duval Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, most middle schoolers aren’t getting gifted instruction unless they go to a magnet for gifted children, and it’s been that way for a decade.

While some middle schools offer early college and honors classes, most don’t offer pure gifted instruction from a specialist, which might be why Duval middle schools are struggling to keep their gifted students.

District data shows 243 gifted middle schoolers left for charter schools and 119 for home schooling last year.

One problem is many middle schools don’t have enough gifted students to warrant a gifted teacher, Vitti said. Some schools have fewer than five gifted students. Data requested by WJCT News concerning the minimum student-to-teacher ratio to have a gifted specialist on staff wasn’t provided before deadline. 

Vitti presented a solution to the board a couple weeks ago designating eight middle schools as non-dedicated gifted magnet schools. Students would have had the option to relocate to one of those. But board members vetoed that plan.

Vitti came back this week with another plan requiring the bussing of middle schoolers to an outside school for gifted classes twice a month. Board members didn’t like that plan either, many questioning if there was any value to twice-a-month gifted instruction.

Board member Becki Couch, who has a gifted son in elementary school, doesn't like the bussing model.

“You have to ask yourself is that really worth the tradeoff of him staying in his neighborhood school and just getting instruction from his teacher and not really missing any content?” she said in a phone interview Wednesday.

As a former teacher, she said she remembers students who were bussed to the other side of town for gifted instruction often opted out of participating because of the lengthy bus ride.  

Instead, she suggested having certified gifted teachers travel to students at their school.

That way, students won’t miss class and, she said, “There’s a sense that these students matter enough to have a teacher come to them.”

And in schools with just a handful of gifted students, Couch said high achievers should also be allowed to participate.

Vitti also said there are some middle schools, like Mandarin that could probably have more of a self-contained gifted program because it has a higher number of gifted students.

Couch said she’d like to see her idea also applied to elementary schools.

Duval will be working to identify more gifted students this year by screening every second grader in the district.

A request from WJCT News for the number of gifted students at each middle school is pending, according to the Duval School District.

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.