Applications for Denver Public Schools’ Highly Gifted and Talented magnet program have surged, doubling the last two years over previous years.
In 2008-09 and 2009-10, DPS officials received between 1,600 and 1,700 applications for the program that enables qualified students to attend schools with special programs for gifted students.
In the years prior to 2008, DPS received about 800 applicants each year.
The number of students qualifying for the magnet programs at eight elementary schools and one middle school has held steady, with 200 to 300 new students identified as HGT each year.
Catherine Gonzales, director of the DPS Department of Gifted and Talented, believes the spike in applications may be related to both increased outreach efforts and the ailing economy. Some families who may have opted for private schools in the past are now seeking out public options.
“We’re definitely doing a lot more outreach through schools and community meetings,’’ Gonzales said. “All children deserve to have quality programs that meet their needs.”
That outreach is not yet reflected in an ethnic breakdown of the HGT program obtained by Education News Colorado. In 2009-10, white students made up 75 percent of HGT enrollment though they are only 25 percent of DPS’ overall student body.
Gonzales said the district is also considering expanding its definitions of gifted to include children who are gifted in leadership or the performing arts, two state categories of gifted for which DPS does not yet screen.
“We’re looking at expanding portfolios,” Gonzales said. “If children are second language learners or children at risk, we need to explore ways to find them. We’re hoping that we will increase our diversity. The goal is to mirror the district with our programs.”
The increased interest in the program and a plan to streamline the district’s choice offerings have spurred DPS officials to push up the application deadline to Oct. 22, from early November last year and December in years past.
DPS officials hope the earlier deadline will help parents find out whether their children have qualified for the magnet program as early as January.
Parents will then be able to decide whether to opt for the HGT magnet programs or participate in the regular school choice process which takes place in January.
“Right around the first of the year, parents of kids who qualify will receive a packet in the mail, saying, ‘Congratulations. Here’s how your child scored. He or she has been qualified for HGT. Now it’s your turn to make a decision,’ ’’ said Shannon Fitzgerald, head of school choice for DPS’ strategy office.
In the past, Fitzgerald said the district automatically assumed that families wanted their children placed in magnet programs. In some cases, parents were merely having their children tested to get more information. In other cases, children were placed in one gifted magnet program when their parents preferred another.
“Now we’ll tell them: ‘Here’s your portfolio of options. These are all the different programs throughout the district. At certain schools, you’ll get enrollment priority and transportation.’ ’’ Fitzgerald said.
Parents can then mark their preferences for any HGT program in the city. They won’t be guaranteed their first choice, but Fitzgerald hopes the district will better match parent desires with available programs.
“It’s letting the market inform us about where our programs should be. We need to understand what the market looks like. We need the data to make better decisions,’’ Fitzgerald said.
Earlier notification should also enable families to participate in the regular choice process if their child doesn’t qualify for the HGT magnet programs or if they want to explore other schools.
“We’re allowing them more access to more district programs,’’ Fitzgerald said.