Once a year, leaders of gifted education programs in school districts across the state retreat to the Golden Isles for a unique two-day training event, at which they’re able to discuss ways to continue advocating for the students they serve.
The 20th annual Georgia Gifted Coordinators Consortium kicked off Wednesday at the King & Prince Resort on St. Simons Island with a keynote address from one of the highest-ranking education leaders in the state.
State School Superintendent Richard Woods met with the more than 100 gifted education coordinators and discussed how the state Department of Education is working to support gifted programs.
Woods said his department focuses on the “whole child,” meaning attention is paid not only to the tests that need to be administered and the lessons to be taught, but also to the wrap-around services that students of all performance levels and backgrounds need to succeed.
For gifted students, who are the group that performs at the highest levels in schools, teachers must provide high-quality education that meet the group’s specific needs, Woods said.
“So we’re doing things such as STEM and STEAM education. We’re investing in that,” he said. “Those are wonderful opportunities that can support you in the classroom. As we’re looking at the whole child, again, it’s ensuring balanced education, and a strong gifted program is the key to that.”
These programs face ongoing challenges, though. Rural school districts struggle with resource availability, and statewide equality in gifted opportunities is difficult to achieve.
“The metro area, they have a lot of great resources up there,” Woods said. “… And we’re just trying to look at how can we look at quality across the state and provide all of our kids those opportunities.”
The state education department has been able to use federal funds to offer free online gifted endorsements, he said.
“Last year, we were able to fund 33 of the classes and had 405 applicants,” he said. “So we know there’s a need out there. We know there’s an interest out there.”
The state department has also partnered with the College Board to offer free training to teachers in rural schools, Woods said.
Georgia has long been a leader in gifted education, he said, and the 99.33 percent graduation rate for this group of students is a testament to that long-standing quality.
Woods opened the floor up to questions, and many asked about upcoming potential legislative changes. Woods encouraged the educators to inform their state representatives of their needs.
He also urged them to promote the program heavily in their own districts.
“You’re your biggest cheerleaders,” Woods said. “Your parents are your biggest cheerleaders.”
The two-day consortium continues today and will begin with a talk from Scott Johnson, chairman of the state’s board of education.
He’ll speak on the working relationship between the state school board and the education department.
“I’m especially here to learn and listen to what we can do to support gifted educators,” Johnson said. “Ultimately, in my world we’re always asking with any action we take, whether it’s to create policy or flexibility, does this support students?”
Education is economic development, he said. As Georgia’s industries continue to thrive, its leaders must find ways to ensure that students become the employees that continue that statewide progress.
Ginny Hall, executive director of the Georgia Gifted Coordinators Consortium and one of the conference’s organizers, said support for schools’ gifted programs plays a key role in workforce development.
“We don’t want to lose our gifted and talented kids,” she said. “We want them to come back here. We want them to go to Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, our state schools, and be productive here in Georgia.”
The annual two-day training in the Golden Isles, Hall said, aims to ensure that gifted students receive the education they need to succeed.
“We promote education with all students,” she said. “This particular meeting is specifically designed for advocating for gifted education.”