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Apodaca: Don't neglect the GATE students

February 18, 2011|By Patrice Apodaca

Apologies to comedian Stephen Colbert for ripping off his "Tip of the Hat/Wag of the Finger" bit, but I would like to tip my hat to Victoria Elementary School Principal Linda Tenno, and wag my finger at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

Tenno gets the nod because she is essentially doing two big jobs at once. In addition to running the Costa Mesa school, she also heads the district's Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE, program.

The district gets the scolding because there's no way they could be paying Tenno enough.

To be fair, I should cut the district some slack because it's facing the same harsh financial choices as other school systems statewide. The new normal in public education means double duties like Tenno's are hardly unique. Budget constraints have forced many districts to slash programs, which often means that when one employee is laid off or retires, remaining staff absorbs the extra work.

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In Newport-Mesa's case, the former district GATE coordinator, Cheryl Galloway, retired last year. Instead of finding a replacement, the district asked Tenno to lead a four-person committee that would oversee gifted-education efforts.

The other committee members are Newport Elementary School Principal Amy Nagy, Newport Coast Elementary School Principal Duane Cox and Davis Magnet School Principal Kevin Rafferty.

In addition, Newport-Mesa has enlisted a group of GATE teachers to design a 1 1/2-year-long program for other teachers throughout the district to become GATE-certified.

Tenno said that when she was asked to take on the additional responsibilities, she was happy to oblige. Considering that GATE programs have been decimated at some other districts, she said, "The fact that we have a viable GATE program is remarkable."

GATE has always operated on a shoestring. In California, about $44 million was set aside for GATE last year, which amounted to less than $100 for each student identified as gifted. But the situation took a turn for the worse nearly two years ago when the state decided to allow districts to divert money allocated for gifted education to other uses.

Many cash-strapped districts have tapped those funds to cover other budgeting shortfalls, leaving many GATE programs with virtually no money to continue operating.

A survey released last June by the state superintendent's office found that California school systems reported an average 28% cut in GATE spending over the previous two years.

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