I've been in a 10+ year odyssey with gifted education. I believe I've done everything I can do as a parent to try to get gifted support for my kids. I've advocated, been engaged, purchased learning materials, chaperoned trips, been part of committees, volunteered and much more. During that time period, I've witnessed one engaged teacher (who was later fired) and another who was a fraud, and used gifted support to hide his high wage as the Athletic Director. And since those two situations; nothing but ineptitude, fraud, waste, excuses, and outright lies.
This article is my last ditch effort to do something about gifted education before the only option I have left is to sue the school district for fraud and taxpayer deception. There are damgages here.
Take a look at my experiences, and see if you have a similar situation in your district. If you do, maybe it's time you speak up as well, for the sake of the taxpayer and more importantly, the children of your community.
- I.E.P is an Individualized Education Program. Mostly used for disabled or disadvantaged students with special needs.
- G.I.E.P is an Gifted Individualized Education Program. Used for accellerated students.
These distinctions are supposed to be used to help teachers give more individualized education to students based on their specific needs. It's supposed to help combat a "one size fits all" approach to teaching. It helps "mainstreamed" students with special needs function within the larger classroom setting.
These are logical program ideas that, when used properly, can help students. They help each student get what they need. Although an argument about how managable a classroom full of "special kids" is for the teachers, could be made in a separate paper.
Why the G.I.E.P.'s - The "non-profit" of education
Unfortunately, just like opening a "non-profit", a G.I.E.P can be a back door loophole to appearing "caring" but actually just working the system to your own benefit.
Some people have good intentions when opening a "nonprofit". You know this to be true, because of the success stories we can read about nonprofit corporations that have done outstanding work around the world. That is why there is a place for this form of business.
Sadly, some people see this business orientation as a way to work the system. These people open non-profits to make money (but they will call those profits "surpluses", because semantics matter in this world and especially to the IRS. Used improperly, a nonprofit, becomes a scam. A scam allowed by the government that gives unfair business advantages to some while injuring "regular", tax-paying, "for profit", businesses. It's a rip-off for communities and a small business killer because for two reasons:
- It doesn't pay into the community infrastructure (which it uses)
- Because it sounds like you are some magnanemous benefactor working for the common good. When in reality, you are a scammer, planning to be paid handsomely for your work, on the backs of the people you mislead with your label of "non-profit".
Gifted is kind of like that: just not as honorable.
You see in gifted education today, you get nothing. Sure, the schools take your taxes to provide intellect-appropriate public education to your children: but "special" kids need extra funding. So then the school accepts MORE MONEY from the state, under the promise of using this "Special education" money to supplement the need for special students. Advanced programs for Gifted students, and compensational programs for the less capable. I have no idea how the funds for children with Individualized Education Program (I.E.P's) are used, but for kids with GIEP's: i believe the schools are simply gaming the system.
Below is the line items for special education from our district:
So, if you take the $1,387,004.00 in funds, that the state supplies our school district for special education, and you extrapolate to get to the money for gifted, it kind of looks like this (roughly):
- Total payment to the school district from the state for Special education: $1,387,004.00
- Total number of kids in the district who fall under special education: 385
- Total number of Gifted kids from the 385 Special education number: 75
- If you take the state money and divide it by the recipients, you get $3,602.60/student/year
- If you take the Gifted kids and multiply that time the allotment per kid, you get $270,195.57 for gifted support.
Now go into that same budget, and show me how those funds are spent on the gifted kids?
- They have no dedicated instructor.
- They have no activities
- They have no programs
- They have no supplies.
So where is the money?
See, the school knows that most kids and parents are human. They are likely to take something "free" that is advantageous to them, and just be quiet about it. If the kid gets the distinction of "gifted", it makes them feel smart and maybe a little special. If the parents can arrange for their kids to get the GIEP distinction, it means they have a tool with which to get special treatment for their kids. They can customize lessons, request certain considerations and a host of other advantages over "non-gifted" kids.
So both the student and the parent don't care if they actually get any "gifted education". Both already got what they wanted; just by getting the distinction. So if there are no services delivered from the school...who cares? The kid feels like they are getting away with the perk without any work, and the parents already have their tool. So everyone stays quiet. And best of all...the school got a nice chunk of money from taxpayers and does EXACTLY NOTHING. Everyone wins! (well, except the kids, society and the taxpayers).
My personal experience with "gifted"
I'm on my second kid in "Gifted". The first one was admitted to the program (basically against his will) because he got tested for private school admissions: and he tested very high for I.Q. As a result, that test score followed him around on his "permanent record" and he became one of the "smart kids" at school.
Now as much as that lablel helps a kid "fit in" (sarcasm), and feel socially accepted and part of the school culture, my son found the label to be a bit of a burden.
The long fight - Supporting documentation
I've been at this for a long time. My oldest son is now 22 year old, out of higher education, and gainfully employed and Philadelphia. My daughter is now in 10th grade. Below are some articles and correspondance that document my ten year battle with the school in regard to the "gifted program".
Letter to the Editor - January 30th, 2009 (never sent)
I want to congratulate you on your editorial today. It is so on target that I couldn't have said it better myself. In fact, I sat down to write a similar article about this situation yesterday, but I stopped half way though. I stopped because it feels so pointless.
I am a parent of one of those gifted kids. He received great support in elementary school and in middle school under the tutelage of the other gifted teacher in Danville, Janet Hefner. When my son, Jake, reached high School, and was under the direction of Ron Kanaskie everything changed. I had heard that things were “different” under Kanaskie, but no one ever tells you how “different”.
In the first year, no contact was made with my son during gifted time. He had nothing to do and Ron never bothered to even make the program legal by completing or following my son’s GIEP. Mr. Kanaskie simply couldn’t be bothered. In fact, a few weeks into the year, he didn’t even bother coming to class anymore. As a result, the kids stopped coming to class as well.
So when I catch wind of all this I am mad. At about the same time I get an evaluation form in the mail from the program. I write down the same information on that evaluation that I have written above. I hear nothing. Then come parent / teacher conferences. I schedule to go in and see Kanaskie. He seems genuinely concerned that I am not happy with the gifted program. He tells me, “most parents never write negative comments.” I tell him that most parents must not be honest and that I am upset that there is no gifted support program that I can see under his supervision. He says, “These kids don’t need busy work”. I agree. They have plenty to do. But this statement shows that Kanaskie hasn’t even taken the time to learn what gifted support is. He tells me, “I’m most valuable when the kids are trying to get into college”. He further explains that he writes letters of recommendation for them. I tell him that my wife works in the Career Center of the School and that the work he is saying is his “valuable service”, is the job of the Career Center. Kanaskie looked truly puzzled to hear that there was a Career Center in the High School. I’m not kidding.
So I complain to the school board (that is the process, right?) That gets me nowhere. Dawn Gill makes calls and fights, but she is just one person and she is starting to be painted as the odd person out and the “townie girl” that just doesn’t understand.
So I join the fledgling Gifted Support Advisory group. We start to make slow progress to at least create a survey to give to parents and students to determine what is expected through gifted support. To me, this is a further waste of time because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Lots of schools have great Gifted Support programs and the cost of the materials are surprisingly small! But I try to be a “team player” and trudge forward.
Suddenly, all comes to a halt. Why? Because Ricki Boyle has turned in her resignation. Why did she do that? Because she is truly trying to fix the program but was tired of banging her head against the same wall as Dawn Gill. She has been saying that Kanaskie hasn’t been doing his job for years. In fact, she (as his direct boss) has written him up for his poor performance at least twice. She started seeing him taking more heat, and she decided that she didn’t want to be associated with the program anymore. Reportedly, she made this decision after she went to Ron’s file to look at the disciplinary warnings she had written and they were mysteriously missing from his file.
So now the Advisory group is in limbo. Meanwhile my son is in his second year of no Gifted Support program (which the school takes money from the state to provide, but doesn’t even field a state minimum compliance).
So as I am writing my editorial yesterday, I stopped. I thought to myself, “Everyone is going to just say that they were doing their job under our system”. Ricki is going to say that she wanted to get rid of Ron, but couldn’t do it because of the rules and requirements of the Union. Ron is going to say that he was doing what he thought he was supposed to do, and was permitted to do under the provisions of his contract. The school board is going to say that they are just taking the cheapest path to get Ron out of Gifted and into an area that he can actually handle.
So I thought, what is my roll? What are my contractual responsibilities as a taxpayer being exposed to out and out fraud? As a parent of a Gifted kid that is being deprived of opportunity to excel? I concluded that my responsibility is to get my money back. I concluded that if this was a guy that I contracted with to provide a service at my house, and I got this kind of service, I would sue him. I have already exhausted every possible avenue to positively rectify this situation with no luck. I have gone above and beyond to walk on the constructive side of the street. Now is the time to fight. These people are personally wronging me, my family and my community; and I’m pissed.
*I didn’t even mention the rumors of undocumented gate receipts at games, pay-off to fellow teachers that simply sit in the press box at games, and the fact that Kanaskie spends most days sitting at home. I didn’t mention them because I can’t prove it...yet.
**Below is an email that I sent the school administration back in September. I thought you might enjoy it. It illustrates that all parties have been aware of this problem for some time.
Email to the School District - September 24th, 2008
**From: Decoteau <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: September 24, 2008 10:20:42 AM EDT
To: "Dr. Susan Bickford" <email@example.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Subject: Gifted Support
Dr. Bickford, Mrs. Boyle, and Mr. Burger, I attended the School Board meeting on Tuesday evening and enjoyed Mrs. Boyle's presentation in regard to the Gifted Program. Mrs. Boyle did a great job, as usual, in communicating the basics of Gifted Support.
My son Jacob has been involved in the Program since we moved to Danville in 1998, and for the most part, we have been very pleased. However, I believe that there exists a "disconnect" between the Middle School Gifted Program and the High School Program that was not discussed at the Tuesday night meeting.
Some of you may have noticed that I stood up to make a comment at the School Board Meeting, but it seemed the meeting had moved on to the next subject before I could address the group. Perhaps, that was for the best, as my comments may play better to this private audience than to the public audience at the Board Meeting at this point in time. I offer these comments as suggestions for you as you endeavor to improve the gifted program.
Janet Heffner has a unique and energetic way of teaching. She develops themes for the students and they spend the school year exploring the themes. I will be honest when I say that sometimes I thought Mrs. Heffner's "themes" where kind of "out there". However, I could never question her enthusiasm and passion for teaching her students. I always felt like I was a "half a beat off" whenever I spoke to Mrs Heffner, but then again, I usually feel the same way when I talk to Jacob. Maybe that is why is seems to work.
When Jake moved to the High School, the program completely changed. I would go as far as to say that the program was non- existent. For Jacob's entire first year, he did almost nothing but sit in a room with other students, unsupervised, with no assignments. Many times, Jacob never even saw Mr. Kanaskie for the entire period. To me, that's a study hall at best and not a gifted program. That also makes Mr. Kanaskie a study hall teacher and not a Gifted support teacher.
As Mrs. Boyle said in her presentation last evening, these kids are smart kids with I.Q.'s of at least 120. How long do you think it took Jacob to realize that he didn't even have to show up to his "gifted support" class? How long would you go to a job, with no assignments, no supervision and no pay?
When I found out about this situation, I met with Mr. Kanaski and we discussed the situation prior to Jacob's second year. Mr. Kanaski acted surprised by this information, but didn't deny that this was going on. He assured me that would change. He told me that he lets the kids do more "self guided" projects at the High School level. He also said that he didn't believe these students needed more "busy work" as they already tended to be very busy with both school related and extra curricular activities. He said that he is most helpful when students are deciding about college placement. I agree with most of these comments and I understand why a High School student should be more self sufficient, but a completely "hands-off" policy immediately following Mrs. Heffner's very intensive "hands-on" approach is not working.
Mr. Kanaski's claim that he is very helpful in finding colleges for Gifted students is also a little puzzling to me. Why would this be Mr. Kanaski's job when the High School has a full staff of Counselors and Guidance staff who perform this exact function? Wouldn't the guidance staff be better prepared to serve this function since they receive ongoing updates and education in regard to higher education throughout the year? How would Coach Kanaskie be better prepared to offer this service than your trained team? As you develop your Gifted curriculum please consider the following:
1. Offer a "transitional guide" to both parents and students as they move from the "Hands-on" program into the "Hands-off" program.
2. Remove Career and Higher Education Counselor from the job description of the Gifted teacher (if it is in fact a responsibility) and let that responsibility fall on Guidance.
3. Do not try to save dollars by "pretending" that the high school Athletic Director can do the job of Gifted Support Teacher. If Coach Kanaskie is working full time as Athletic Director to provide a top- notch athletic department, then level with the public and let them know that it costs $70K$/year for an athletic director. Please don't sacrifice the Gifted program in order to make it look like we are saving tax dollars at the expense of our kids.
In closing, I want to repeat that overall, our entire family is very pleased with the gifted program at DASD. We lost a year, however, learning how to deal with the High School level program. Mrs. Boyle should be given full credit for spending time with me and my family to get us back on track. I want to thank her, and all of you, for taking an interest in my son Jacob.
Deception and cooking the books
If you notice in bullet point #3 above from my email of September 24th, 2008, you will find something really disturbing and unethical.
In the case of Ron Kanaskie, he wanted more money as an Athletic Director (unarguably deserved with his track record of success) but there was no room in a budget for paying an Athletic Director the amount of money he wanted. So instead of showing those numbers as the salary of an Athletic Director, Coach Kanaski was given the resonsibilities of the "Gifted Support Teacher". This allowed the school to "hide" the extra money it was paying to Coach Kanaskie, while basically giving him only a the equivilent of a study hall to proctor (which he never even bothered to attend).
I brought this to the attention of the School multiple times. As a result, a committee was formed to investigate how to improve the gifted program at Danville. After a year of meetings, the committee was disolved when Ricky Boyle resigned. All work that was done to that point was abandoned, and the program never ammended.
To resolve the Kanaskie situation, he was asked to retire and given that retirement income, and given a raise for the work he actually performed. This satisfied both Kanaskie, and the school budget (still hiding athletic director pay) and minimized the damage being done to the gifted program. Enron would be proud.
So when I say, "Show me the money" above: do you now see how the money is being spent? Not on the kids, but in hidden salaries to make budgets look more acceptable.
So now my daughter is in Gifted. My son graduated from Danvile with honors and went on to Temple University. He didn't get any experiences from gifted that I've seen other kids get at other schools with great programs - but he still was accepted to college, and is doing fine.
And now I'm hopeful that some change has come to the Gifted program, and that some of the problems have been addressed, and now we can at least salvage the program for my daughter to enjoy. Wishful thinking.
At this point, being the gifted teacher seems to be a bit of a "dance of the lemons" situation. No one wants to do it, so the person who can complain to the union least get saddled with the job. In this case, that seems to be the Librarians.
So for years, we have meetings, outline ideas and goals, set strategies for a program, sign our G.I.E.P. papers...and then nothing.
- No real tangible results.
- No outcomes
- Nothing quantifiable or experiences.
...and yet they keep taking the money, and kids keep getting nothing.
The latest: 2015 - 16
This year is shaping up to maybe be the best year ever for gifted. Here's what has happened so far:
- I attend the beginning of the year meeting to set goals (again) in September.
- The school is on "lock down" for some reason, so my daughter can't get to the meeting on time.
- The teachers say, "Well, since she can't be here now, let's get the papers signed to show you were here and get this rolling, so that we don't have to take time at the end of the meeting for that formality."
- I agree to try to use time wisely, and I sign.
- I realize I've been tricked.
The tone of the meeting immediately changed after I signed the papers at their request, and to save time. Everyone sits back and now seems at ease. Apparently, some at the meeting had heard of my dissatisfaction with the Gifted program and they were tense. After I signed these "attendance papers", things seemed much more casual. I found out why later.
We have the meeting. The paperwork seems very boiler plate to me. It's nonspecific. We've really done nothing in the past year. We talk about those facts. There was an early obsticale to the goals outlined, and so the entire idea was dropped, and never revisited or amended. So we talk about changes that need to be made to her present GIEP and the upcoming year. We talk about VERY SPECIFIC goals like making video editing software (Final Cut Pro) available to my daughter so she can pursue an area of interest. This item was also discussed at the last year's GIEP meeting, but somehow didn't make it to the GIEP paperwork for 2014. I insist that this be a priority for this year. The people in the room, (Jillanne Schupp, Tracy Niehoff and Katie Huber) agree that this is a good idea, and say they will help make it happen. I leave feeling pretty good about our chances.
Unfortunately, I don't realize that I've been played. I quickly feel like I have just returned from a used car lot, and been taken.
I learn that as soon as I signed those papers: the meeting was actually over. That my daughters GIEP will NOT be ammended to include the items we discussed and that as soon as I signed (as a favor to those teachers in attendance at the meeting and at their request) I agreed to the GIEP as written which presently only says, "Liz will explore the connections between art and the business world of fashion". That's not what we agree would happen.
I have not seen an amended GIEP to this point...because there isnt one.
The month after the meeting
I ask Liz if anything is happening in Gifted? She says it is not. I ask her what she needs to do? She says she doesn't know, but will check. After not getting a clear answer about next steps, I write the following email to Jillann Shupp:
This was my reply from Jillann:
If you notice, the email is still very hesitant to deliver services. The onus is put on my daughter to "reach out" to Mrs. Huber. We've already "reached out" to Mrs. Huber. In fact: she was sitting right there in the room with us when we discussed this topic! Mrs. Huber sent Liz to Mr. Lynch (art teacher) to see if he had anything for her to use. Mr. Lynch said he did not. And then it ends... again.
Liz has again recieved no gifted support as of the date of this article.
As a parent and taxpayer, it's so frustrating to see this exact same scenario play out year after year after year. Promised services not delivered while pretending to serve the students and the community.
Bottom line for me:
If this school is going to except TAXPAYER MONEY to have this program - the onus is ON THE SCHOOL to deliver the programing - not the student.
- If you want to disband Gifted - great. I could support that decision to do so, but I'd prefer we actually use the money to do what other schools have done with their gifted programs: create great, college-level programing.
- If you want to actually deliver $3,602.60 dollars of services to the students - I'd prefer that outcome. But if that is absolutely beyond the capabilities of the school, at least admit your limitations and stop taking the money.
You don't get to have it both ways. For God sake, stop giving the students a run around, decieving the parents and defrauding the community.