February 2, 2010
Dear Board of Education:
I am writing in dismay at the continued punishment of the programs for gifted and talented students in Montgomery County. Every budget cycle seems to single out these programs (and a few other selected programs) for cuts. I fear that the cuts have become so severe that we will soon have no programs left.
I am the parent of three children. All three have attended the Center for the Highly Gifted at Cold Spring Elementary School, the math, science and computer science magnet program at Takoma Park Middle School, and the math, science and computer science magnet program at Blair High School. I am extremely grateful for the existence of these programs, as they have given my children and their peers a challenging education appropriate to their abilities.
My oldest child began reading spontaneously at the age of two and a half. By the time she arrived in public school, the teachers really did not know what to do with her. While a grade skip was suggested, it was clear to me that skipping a single grade would come not come near meeting her educational needs. She needed a whole different type of education than what she was receiving in our local elementary school. As she grew older, she was increasingly unhappy in school, as she was bored and the other kids viewed her as different. When the letter arrived inviting her to the Center program, she literally jumped up and down with excitement. And I must say, the program lived up to that reception. She was challenged and stretched in every respect, along with a peer group who accepted and respected her. It is no wonder that she never wanted to return to our neighborhood schools – Pyle and Whitman – for middle school and high school.
Another daughter spent every day in school in third grade reading library books that she brought from home. She would leave home in the morning with a new 250-page book to read, and come home at the end of the day having not only completed all of her school work, but also having completed the book; that is how unchallenged she was in school. And my son completed all of the math at our elementary school by the end of third grade. What was I to do with him? The Center program was the solution for each of my children.
Cold Spring Elementary School was located 10 miles from our house, and in the opposite direction from our jobs. If I had to drive the children there, it would have increased my commute to work from 8 miles to 28 miles. One morning when the bus didn’t show up, I arrived at work more than 2 hours after leaving home to drop my daughter off at Cold Spring. Obviously, I could not have done that on a daily basis. Providing our own transportation would have become even more untenable when I had two children at Cold Spring and one at Takoma Park and we lived 10 miles from each school. And if we – a two-working-parent family – could not manage this, imagine the burden that would impose on a single parent or a family with financial challenges.
The repeated staffing cuts at the high school magnet level seem designed to be a slow death by torture. These are the programs that attract newcomers to Montgomery County. These are the programs that encourage employees of high-technology companies to locate here. The kids in these programs bring national recognition to MCPS. Why would you want to impede these programs?
Please think again before rubber-stamping the Superintendent’s budget, which includes another loss of 5.0 teacher FTEs in high school special programs. Find a way to cut these dollars from an expense category that doesn’t impact classroom instruction for any children. And please do not accede to the list of threatened budget cuts proposed by Superintendent Weast in the event that the County Council does not fully fund the budget. That list contains three separate proposals that would undermine the Center and magnet programs: eliminating bus transportation to these programs, a further cut of 12.9 FTEs for teachers in middle school and high school special programs, and cuts to extracurricular stipends, which offer fabulous enriching activities available to all secondary school students and help to fund the eighth period for the magnet program at Blair High School.
Please re-examine your priorities. I know these are tough times, but a prudent family stops eating restaurant meals and turns off its cable service before it stops feeding the children. A prudent school board should do the same.