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Article of Interest - Gifted Learners

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Nation's First Public School for the Gifted Scheduled to Open Next Year
Cy Ryan, Las Vegas Sun, November 20, 2005
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CARSON CITY -- This time next year a new public school for "profoundly gifted" students -- believed to be the first of its kind in the United States -- will be open at UNR.

For purposes of this special school, profoundly gifted means those whose evaluations and test scores rank them in the 99.9th percentile, children whose IQs are 160 or higher -- a standard that only 1 in 10,000 students will meet, according to Keith Rheault, state superintendent of public instruction.

The school is the creation of Bob and Jan Davidson of Incline Village. They have pledged $10 million to $20 million to the Davidson Academy of Nevada.

The retired couple, who made their money designing educational software, want to set up the school to shepherd highly intelligent students through high school classes and into university coursework as quickly as possible.

In 1999 the Davidsons created a summer scholarship program that enables gifted students ages 12 to 15 to earn up to seven college credits at UNR.

The academy is an outgrowth of the summer program.

Jan Davidson told the Legislature that profoundly gifted children need an individualized learning program different than regular students, just as special education students do.

It is difficult for students from the summer program to return to a regular junior high school curriculum, Davidson said.

The Davidson Academy is the nation's first public school for gifted students created by a private foundation and codified by state law. In June, Gov. Kenny Guinn signed a bill that authorized public schools for profoundly gifted pupils to operate in a university setting.

"I really support this," said Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, a former teacher who chairs the Assembly Education Committee. "This is a population of our students we have ignored. Not only do we need to close the achievement gap, but we can't forget to challenge our brightest students."

Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said the state was barred by the Constitution from giving public school money to the Davidson Academy through the university system. The couple could receive state money if they started a charter school, said Giunchigliani, a member of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee that considered the legislation.

But the Davidsons are sticking with their concept to have the students at UNR.

Giunchigliani suggested they should keep their students in separate classes at the university "to see if they can handle the socialization" because most of the other students are 18 and older.

Mark Herron, a trustee for the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, said there are three potential scenarios for young scholars: They may be taught by instructors from the Davidson Academy; they may sit side by side in class with university students; and if there is enough interest in a subject, they may have a university professor teach them at the university campus.

The contract with the university is being worked out, Herron said.

The state Board of Education will hold a Dec. 3 workshop in Las Vegas on the proposed regulations governing the school. The regulations could be adopted in January.

The plan is for the academy to accept 30 students for its first year and 60 the second year.

Herron said Tuesday the school is progressing. Applications are starting to come in and there "is a high level of interest around the country," he said.

"We're committed to take anybody who qualified," he said.

The requirement that the children be Nevada residents has prompted parents in California and on the East Coast to say they would be willing to move here.

Amanda Rookei, application coordinator, said the Davidson Academy has received "scores" of e-mails and telephone calls since the New York Times published a story about the school Thursday.

For initial qualification, students must have scored in the top 99.9 percentile in either of two IQ tests or the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the ACT Assessment or the Explore examination within the last two years.

Three letters of recommendation and transcripts from all schools that the student has attended must be submitted. After meeting all of those qualifications, students are eligible for an interview with Davidson administrators, Rookei said.

     

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