Parents lobby to spare gifted student program

Budget cuts » Canyons District will consolidate ALPS into two elementary schools
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Fed up with school closures and feeling ignored, voters east of the Jordan River chose to break away from Utah's largest school district and create a smaller district.

They were promised local control and better schools.

But the new district's plans to pare down an Accelerated Learning Program (ALPS) for gifted elementary students has parents feeling blindsided and questioning the administration's commitment to excellence.

"There was no parental input and no forewarning. We were told Friday, 'If you want to stay in the program next year, you'll have to switch schools,' " said Lyda Bigelow, the mother of an ALPS child. "How do you explain that to a 6-year-old?"

Bigelow was among 200 parents at a meeting about the changes Monday at Cottonwood Elementary School.

At that meeting, David Doty, superintendent of the new Canyons School District, defended the district's proposal to consolidate ALPS classrooms, saying it will save the equivalent of five teachers' jobs.

The program is overstaffed and underenrolled, especially in the first grade where there are as few as 8 to 15 students per class, said Doty. "It's hard for me to justify those ratios when I hear complaints from parents of kindergarteners with classes of 35, particularly in light of budget cuts."

Four Canyons elementary schools offer accelerated programs: Sunrise, Ridgecrest, Alta View and Peruvian Park.

Doty proposes shutting down the first grade program at Ridgecrest and moving those students to Peruvian Park. Also on the chopping block is the program for grades 1-3 at Sunrise; those students will transfer to Alta View.

For now, Sunrise will retain ALPS for grades 4-6 and Ridgecrest will continue to serve grades 2-6. Grades at some of the schools may be combined into one class.

The changes will uproot roughly 74 children.

Doty would have informed parents sooner, but said he only became aware of the scope of the district's budget woes last week when an arbitration panel divvied up the old Jordan District's assets. He said his long-term goal is to remake ALPS into a center of excellence catering to the district's best and brightest.

The Jordan district's decision years ago to expand the program diluted it, Doty believes.

Several parents, though, say they like the program as is.

"The way I see it, they're limiting the numbers," said Amy Folum.

Bigelow questions the district's claims of low demand.

The numbers are down for incoming first-graders, but second- and third-grade classrooms have between 21 to 26 students, she said. "Don't tell me there's no demand, they're just not doing their job to advertise the program."

Bigelow noted that Challenger, an academically rigorous private school in Sandy, recently doubled its capacity.

"They would never treat other kids this way," said Bigelow. "Our kids have the same right to make friends and develop an allegiance to their school and sense of security."