PARKERSBURG -Parents at Edison Middle School willingly opted their students out of a talented and gifted program, but a board member says he feels the option was not fully explained to families.
Edison Principal Jean Mewshaw was asked about the program during a Local School Improvement Council presentation Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education and gave an agitated explanation of why gifted classes last year at the school had some of the lowest enrollment numbers in the district.
Middle school gifted programs and Edison's program in particular have been a source of debate for the school board in recent months. Officials said families at Edison were encouraged to opt out of the program and those that remained spent only 20 minutes a week playing board games as part of a special topics class.
Edison Middle School Principal Jean Mewshaw spoke Tuesday to the Wood County Board of Education during a presentation by Edison’s Local School Improvement Council. Mewshaw was asked to explain why the school’s gifted program enrollment dropped dramatically last year. (Photo by Michael Erb)
Board member Tad Wilson on Tuesday asked Mewshaw to explain her program, saying the topic had "caught fire" with the board and public in recent months.
Mewshaw said enrollment in the program dropped dramatically because families were given options in how their students could participate.
"These parents came in over the summer. They had the option to be Choice A or Choice B. Choice A was acceleration through the staff, Choice B was acceleration through special topics. They signed off, every one of them signed off on paper where they chose to be," she said. "Ninety-nine percent of them chose to be Choice A where they would be accelerated through the block classes at Edison. Then there was no one in special topics, or gifted, this enrichment program at the school.
"It was all done legally," she said.
Mewshaw called complaints by parents and attention from the board "an explosion" and hinted it was a topic the board should not have discussed.
"The people that started the explosion didn't have the accurate information," she said.
Mewshaw gave a rambling account of a parent who complained publicly about the program but had signed a paper opting her student out of special topics.
"She said 'I did sign here, but I didn't know what I was signing.' I said 'well, ma'am you should have asked what you were signing.'" Mewshaw said. "She said 'well, they should have told me' and I said 'I don't know about you, but I never put my name on a piece of paper without asking what I'm signing.' So then she apologized profusely to me."
"We appreciate you taking the time to enlighten us," Wilson said. "We don't always know the whole story."
"Shouldn't you know the whole story before you ..." Mewshaw said, trailing off.
"Possibly," Wilson said.
The board did not further comment on Mewshaw's presentation on gifted, but after the meeting board member Jim Fox said her explanation fell short. Fox was the board member who first brought concerns to Wood County Administration about the Edison program last year.
"I wasn't totally satisfied with her answer," he said, "but I have to trust in what (Director of Secondary Schools) Mike Winland and (Superintendent Pat) Law have said."
Both administrators have said issues with the school's gifted program have been taken care of, and steps are being taken to make all middle school gifted programs equivalent.
Fox said Mewshaw's comments illustrate a need for administrators to be more clear when giving information to parents.
"The example she gave us tonight, the parent unknowingly signed their child out of the program," he said. "As a service provider, we need to explain things more thoroughly."
Fox also said he did not feel the LSIC presentation was an appropriate venue to further question Mewshaw on the gifted program. Mewshaw brought about 60 staff members, parents and students to Tuesday's meeting to give presentations on everything from math and English training for teachers to how technology is used in the classroom.
Law is expected to give a report on middle school talented and gifted programs sometime within the month.