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Superintendent Search: Evaluating Gary Richards

March 22, 2011

We are in the final week of superintendent interviews.  While the Board of Education has made the process very open to the public and gives us ample opportunity to comment, the decision by the Board to select a superintendent after the last interview on Friday instead of waiting until the public can view the candidates’ extended interviews on TV has led me to post evaluations of each immediately after their interviews.   Unfortunately for Mr. Clarke, I will have significantly less information to provide to you about him.

The Board has provided feedback forms with the following questions:

  • Please give your impressions of how this candidate matches the criteria that is desired in the next superintendent
  • Describe how you think this candidate will lead and relate to the various constituencies of the school community
  • Please describe particular strengths you see in this candidate or detail any areas of concern

I am evaluating each candidate on the information they have provided on advanced and gifted education.  I have asked Dr. Richards a few questions about gifted education, have listened to other questions asked, and I believe I will have this opportunity with the other candidates.  I will not be revealing questions others have asked.

My first question for Dr. Richards was “Many candidates spoke of circles or pyramids in regards to budget cuts, with the classroom being the inner circle or base of the pyramid.  Where does gifted and talented education fall in your structure for budgeting?”

Dr. Richards’ answer made it clear that advanced and gifted education is not considered part of core curriculum, but an outer circle extra that needs a budget surplus to implement.  He is open to no-cost options for gifted education presented to him, but gifted education is not enough of a priority to devote resources when they are limited.

I also asked Dr. Richards which courses he had taken or books he had read regarding gifted and talented education.  He indicated it was very few.  His demographics do not include a large number of gifted and talented students, but more students in need of remedial help.  In RCS’s area, 80% of adults have at least some college.  There are many advanced and gifted students in our district.  The demographics are just too different and Dr. Richards is unprepared for our students.  He could catch up to speed, but he will need to do his research thoroughly.

In Imlay City Schools, there are no programs for advanced and gifted learners other than implemented by the county.  They do not work to identify gifted and talented students, but only react when a teacher or parent raises the issue.  He did not know of any specific tool to assess gifted and talented students, but assembled a committee if the question arose.

Other information provided by Dr. Richards included that he believed differentiated education to be one of the best methods of gifted education and that good differentiated education was the teacher providing a core lesson and then assigning different activities having more complexity or requiring more effort for different levels of learners.

Dr. Richards also suggested gifted and talented students should help mentor in the classroom as a way of providing leadership and to further instill the lessons taught.  While teaching a subject to someone else can help further learn the subject, gifted learners already get it.  They don’t need the additional repetition of the curriculum.  They come to school to learn, not to be employed as a mentor.  And placing them in a mentor role further exacerbates the social stigma that many gifted and talented students feel.  Gifted students are often willing to help, but it must be remembered that they are students foremost.

It is hereby my recommendation that Dr. Richards not be selected as the new superintendent.   Should you agree, please contact the Board via their web page.

Together we can make a difference for advanced and gifted children!

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Rochester Supports Advanced & Gifted Education!

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 23, 2011 8:43 AM

    The funding and spending decisions made by Rochester really exemplifies the concept that “the tall grass is cut first.”

    Everything seems to be brought back to the mainstream average. Slower learners are shoved ahead – causing them to fall further behind. Advanced learners are held back, bored, asked to do more work or to pick up mentoring and teaching roles to the other students. Outcome based education seems to be the mantra of “it all averages out in the end.”

    I was simply amazed at the brazen question asked by Ms. Beth Talbert towards the end. “As a parent, I thought my children were gifted and talented…” Richards chimed in, “Mine too.” Talbert continued, “but it turns out I just loved them a lot. What does a gifted and talented child look like?”

    Richard’s response? A 31 on the ACT in 7th grade.

    That’s a pretty high bar to set. I would expect someone scoring a 31 on the ACT in 12th grade is pretty exceptional. In fact, someone scoring a 19 on the ACT in 7th grade is standing in line to attend the International Academy’s IB program in Bloomfield or Troy.

    But Dr. Richards doesn’t seem to consider these students advanced, exceptional, gifted – and he doesn’t seem to consider advanced programs like International Academy or the IB a core curriculum that should be nurtured, except in “a perfect world with unlimited funding.”

    Rochester’s mantra should be “providing opportunities for every child to reach their full, unhindered potential.” We cannot continue with the current mindset that “it all averages out in the end.”

    Jeremy Nielson

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