Some parents of gifted and talented students who attend Fayette County public schools say that district officials are not providing necessary services, including for those at high-poverty, low-performing schools.
Michael Dailey, the district's associate director of federal, state and magnet programs, said that while there have been improvements, some valid concerns remain.
"Is it the desire of the district to build the capacity of our schools to meet the needs of our gifted learners?" Dailey asked. "Absolutely."
Out of about 40,000 students in Fayette County public schools, 10,050 are formally identified as gifted and talented. The number of children in that classification has doubled in the last three years, Dailey said.
"We have gifted and talented children all over this district whose needs are not being met," parent Lucy Waterbury said in an interview.
She's concerned that some schools don't have the money to buy materials for gifted and talented children.
On one front, Waterbury said, because district officials have not met the needs of gifted and talented children, there's a "brain drain" of children leaving public schools for private schools.
But Waterbury also said gifted and talented students in high-poverty, low-achieving schools go unidentified.
Parent Sharon Mofield-Boswell, who serves on a task force trying to fix the problem, agreed. Some schools have money to hire more gifted and talented staff, Mofield-Boswell said, but others don't.
"The lower-performing and lower socioeconomic area schools have no chance at that option," she said. "This is where I feel the district should be held accountable. There should be a full-time gifted and talented teacher in every school in this district, not just the ones that can afford it or have the current population to support it."
"I am convinced that there are classrooms full of gifted and talented children sitting unnoticed in our lowest-performing schools. It is this district's responsibility to find them and meet their educational needs. That cannot be done at the current staffing and resource levels," Mofield-Boswell said.
Black and Hispanic students who are English language learners are the lowest represented population in gifted and talented programs, Mofield-Boswell said, and she maintains that "they remain unidentified due to lack of staffing and resources."
Dailey said the number of black students in gifted and talented programs has increased from 8.9 percent in 2009 to 11.7 percent in 2014, and that improved techniques are being used to identify gifted and talented students among English language learners and disabled students.
But he said he would like to see more growth among those populations.
Mofield-Boswell said students who receive free and reduced lunch are outnumbered 3-to-1 in the gifted and talented population.
Higher poverty schools have fewer children identified as gifted and talented, so the allocation of staff is smaller, Dailey said. He said based on the number of gifted and talented students at a school, there could be a gifted and talented teacher there anywhere from one day a week to four days a week.
Mofield-Boswell is concerned that all but two gifted and talented programs at schools have had a staffing reduction since 2012.
"The number of gifted students continues to grow while the staffing and funding steadily decline," she said.
Dailey said Mofield-Boswell is correct that as the number of students identified as gifted and talented has grown, the staff has not grown with that number. However, Dailey said, a teaching position has been added at Tates Creek Middle School's accelerated program, and there is no longer a waiting list there, a problem that had concerned parents.
The state gives Fayette County about $90,000 yearly for gifted and talented students, and the district provides other money, Dailey said. "I would love to see our staffing grow, but we have to operate within our means," Dailey said.
Parent Denise Bauer told school board members that she's concerned about the admissions policy for the middle school accelerated program.
Bauer said that currently, gifted and talented students at accelerated programs at Ashland, Meadowthorpe and Tates Creek elementary schools automatically get into the accelerated program at Tates Creek Middle, while other elementary students might not get in because of limited space.
Parent Trudi Matthews made several recommendations to school board members at the May 26 school board meeting, including suggesting that there be dedicated funding for gifted and talented children and that the funding process be transparent.
District officials should set aside funding so that all children can be treated equitably instead of "pushing the decision down to the schools," Matthews said.
"It's another kind of achievement gap that needs to be closed," she said.