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After 3rd vote, Janesville School Board to expand Challenge Program

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Frank Schultz
April 24, 2013

— The third time was the charm for a proposal to expand the Challenge Program for gifted students in the Janesville School District.

Or was it?

The Janesville School Board voted for a third time on an expansion and passed it Tuesday night, 5-4.

The board had twice rejected the idea of adding a third-grade and a fourth-grade challenge class at Madison Elementary School starting in September, both on close votes.

The difference Tuesday night was the April 2 elections, which removed Peter D. Severson from the board. Severson had voted against the expansion.

Replacing Severson was Cathy Myers, who voted for it Tuesday.

Some board members had concerns about the cost, so Kristin Hesselbacher proposed adding only the third-grade

class for the coming year. That proposal is what passed Tuesday.

But passions ran high, and at the end of the meeting, board member David DiStefano asked that at a future meeting the board consider removing the third-grade Challenge Program from Roosevelt Elementary School.

Roosevelt Elementary has the Challenge Program in grades 3-5. The board voted last year to add the third-grade class there.

DiStefano and Deborah Schilling were particularly passionate in opposition to the expansion.

"It makes me a little crazy with this, that we're going for this for the third time," DiStefano said.

DiStefano said he had heard little advocacy from the public for the change, and he said the latest proposal came from a board member, not the administration, which he took as an indication of how important it was to the administration.

The approximate $90,000—for the third-grade teacher and for added hours for music, art, physical education and Chinese teaching—could be used for other purposes that would serve more students, DiStefano suggested.

Some have argued that without the expansion, the students on a waiting list would not get the kind of education they need and deserve. Other programs likely have waiting lists, too, but that doesn't mean the district will expand programs for them, DiStefano said.

Bill Sodemann said the $90,000 is not the net cost because the program could draw students and revenue from outside the district.

DiStefano suggested that Myers, as a new board member, could abstain from the vote, as some have done in the past.

Schilling said expanding the program is "premature" because there has not been a study showing the effectiveness of the Challenge Program.

"I like indisputable data," Schilling said.

"We can't throw money at everything," she added.

Schilling suggested the money could be used for other needs, including re-establishing academic and custodial positions which were cut two years ago.

Gifted students could be served in their home schools, Schilling suggested.

Myers, a teacher, said it is difficult to teach a class when gifted students are added to the range of abilities among the students. Gifted students have special needs, just as those with disabilities do, Myers said.

Ardrey, who voted against the expansion, hinted he might change that vote after the administration presents a plan for overhauling the district's services to all the gifted students. That presentation is scheduled for May 14.

Ardrey has said he would not vote for additions to the Challenge Program until he sees a comprehensive plan for all the gifted students.



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