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Board of Education Elections: Jeremy Nielson

October 17, 2011

I have sent each Rochester Community Schools Board of Education candidate questions about Advanced & Gifted Education. Here are the questions and Jeremy Nielson‘s responses.

1) Do you believe the opportunities and education that exist for advanced and gifted students in Rochester Community Schools are sufficient?  Why or why not?

2) What role do you believe the Board of Education should have in recommending or implementing gifted education options in our district?

3) What changes do you believe should be made to best meet the needs of high achievers based on your understanding of the surrounding community, the current finances, and the needs of RCS students?

4) What role should parents have in determining gifted education options for our district?

5) Should gifted education options be implemented district-wide or at the option of the principals and teachers?

6) Are you a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program and would you work to convert one or more elementary, middle, and high schools in RCS to the IB program?

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1) Do you believe the opportunities and education that exist for advanced and gifted students in Rochester Community Schools are sufficient?  Why or why not?

Rochester does a great job for most of our children.  But I believe our schools are not doing enough for our G&T students for two reasons.

First, there hasn’t been a gifted and talented program in decades.  Why not?  Targeting enrichment and support for students who need it – including our highest achievers – shouldn’t be that costly.  Secondly, our district offers differentiation, but I’m not sure it’s the right fit for most gifted students needs.

We make an effort to push, train, and reward our top athletes.  Let’s make the same commitment to our best and brightest students, too.

2) What role do you believe the Board of Education should have in recommending or implementing gifted education options in our district?

Very simply, the school board is the ultimate decision maker.  Harry Truman had his placard that read, “The buck stops here.”  I, for one, certainly believe the buck stops with our school board.

As a school board member, I won’t have all the answers.  We’re not educators – and we shouldn’t be expected to be.  But our school board members should have a vision and drive towards improving education for all of the kids in our district – a vision that drives us to encourage and push our kids to their potential, not just “one year of growth”, whatever that means.

Look at the success Rochester S.A.G.E. has had so far!  Our school board has gone from telling parents that a G&T program was unaffordable, to now including it a goal for the district to achieve!  As a future school board member, I want us to do more than simply commit to having a goal.  Let’s actually commit to implementing a program!

3) What changes do you believe should be made to best meet the needs of high achievers based on your understanding of the surrounding community, the current finances, and the needs of RCS students?

First and foremost, I’m open to suggestions.  School board members aren’t educators – and they shouldn’t be expected to be, either.  I think most parents’ experiences are that differentiation alone isn’t getting the job done.  It’s clear that 25 spots at the International Academy isn’t enough when 15% of incoming high school freshman apply – and only 1% are chosen by a lottery.

I think it would be great to open our own independent IB program.  Think of the possibilities if we opened enrollment to neighboring districts, similar to the IA?  It could cover its own costs by bringing in money from other districts – as well as giving all of our brightest students a shot at a better future.

We need to focus on encouraging and challenging our younger students.  Our district will be implementing All-Day Kindergarten next year, but most of the benefits will be lost if we don’t increase the rigor of the elementary program.

These are just a couple of ideas that we can push for from the school board table.

4) What role should parents have in determining gifted education options for our district?

Our school board, including myself, are not going to be overnight experts in G&T programs and options.  So absolutely, parents should be involved!

It sounds really boring to say, “let’s put together a Parent Advisory Committee”.  But why not?  The first step is committing the school board and administration to developing a program.  Once that’s settled, let’s bring in the experts – Parents and Teachers – to define what that program looks like.  I believe some really great ideas can be cultivated and implemented!

5) Should gifted education options be implemented district-wide or at the option of the principals and teachers?

I think kids across our district should all have the same opportunities.

It’s unfortunate that Gifted kids in one school building may get a G&T program, while those at another are left to “differentiation”.  We have a district-wide Special Ed program, and I’d see Gifted and Talent a “special” education program.  That’s not meant disparagingly!  The mechanisms in place for special education are perfect for our highest achievers – identify the needs of our kids, find the resources, define a student’s “Educational Plan”, and then let the kids flourish!

6) Are you a supporter of the International Baccalaureate program and would you work to convert one or more elementary, middle, and high schools in RCS to the IB program?

I am a supporter of the IB program, and the tremendous success our IA students have seen.  I also think it’s unfortunate that 15% of our incoming freshman apply – and only 1% are chosen by a lottery to attend.  There are only enough spots for 25 of our incoming freshman.  For a school that’s continuously top in the nation, it seems a shame to leave the future of hundreds of our kids simply to a “lottery” system.

Serious school board candidates who’ve been watching the board for awhile will tell you the two concerns to this are money and space.  “How will we pay for it?” and “Where will we house it?”.

If I remember correctly, the RACE building was closed down to save money on energy and maintenance costs.  The programs in that building were moved to elementary schools where there was space.  We could begin utilizing this space and even cover the costs by enrolling IB students from neighboring districts – bringing their state foundation allowance with them.

How we pay for it is the tougher challenge.  Our school board manages to find the money for programs it wants (ie, All Day Kindergarten).  If I remember correctly, the IB program would cost $1 million to implement, and have no significant recurring costs beyond what we already expend on our kids.  If we can enroll additional students, we can mitigate these costs.

Considering our school board spent $11 million out of our Rainy Day Fund, don’t you think we could’ve spent $1 million – one time – to  implement a program that our community is eagerly applying to the IA for?  I think this is pretty straight forward – we have demand in our district, we can find the resources to make it happen, and it’s an opportunity to cover our costs by enrolling bright students from neighboring districts.  Why wouldn’t we do this?  Put me on the school board so I can advocate that message!

Any members of Rochester SAGE, please take the time to introduce yourself to Mr. Nielson if you encounter him. 

Thank you for reading Rochester SAGE!  Together we can make a difference for gifted children!

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