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TAG team

Junior highs to see boost to program

Principals from both junior high schools came before the school board Monday to recommend advanced courses that would target Talented and Gifted students.

Their presentation was part of an ongoing effort to bolster TAG programs at the middle level, where the most support is needed, according to a recent survey of parents, teachers and students.

The district's TAG Advisory Committee distributed and collected hundreds of the surveys and made its own recommendations to the board April 23.

The committee's report is part of the district's review of the overall TAG program. It echoed many of the concerns voiced by the Lake Oswego TAG Parent-Teacher Association.

Survey results found that the school community seems satisfied with TAG programs at the elementary and high school levels, but that perceptions of TAG at the middle level were mostly negative.

Recommendations included working on the structure of TAG services at the middle level, increased time between TAG coordinators and elementary students, more resources and professional development for teachers.

Both groups strongly recommended grouping students more often by ability.

About 17 percent of students in the Lake Oswego School District are considered TAG, or academically talented or gifted.

This year, Principal Ann Gerson from Lake Oswego Junior High School and Principal Steve Sherrell of Waluga Junior High School worked with their staffs to expand the type of TAG services and the number of courses offered to TAG students.

In response to the TAG-AC survey results, the principals recommended the following:

n Greater visibility in the structure of TAG programs.

n More opportunities for interaction among like-minded peers.

n Increase student interest and perceived benefit from participating in the TAG program.

n Enhanced communication with parents.

n More professional development opportunities for teachers.

Gerson and Sherrell proposed the addition of new academic electives, including advanced writing, science electives and world languages, including Japanese and Chinese.

The board approved a number of the courses later in the meeting.

Specifically, the new science courses would focus on engineering, the opportunity to work with professional scientists and enter projects in the Intel Northwest Science Expo at Portland State University.

Gerson and Sherrell also introduced the addition of an Academic Merit Program, which would challenge students and give them rewards and incentives for doing well in core subjects.

The program would be open to all students and require a minimum 'B' grade each subject area - English, social studies, math and science, or all areas to become an 'Academic Scholar.' There is no penalty for not meeting the requirements.

In English, for example, students could choice more challenging novels during the Literature Circles Unit or choose a literary classic for an independent study option.

The Academic Merit Program would fulfill several of the concerns expressed in the survey by giving students extra challenges and the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded peers at a higher level of thinking.

The curriculum teacher groups will meet each fall to determine requirements for merit based on curriculum.

'I am very enthusiastic about the proposed changes,' said Karen Rathje, a LOJHS parent and member of TAG-AC. 'Ann Gerson and Steve Sherrell have done an exceptional job of addressing concerns about the TAG program and finding innovative solutions that will benefit all middle level students.'

Board member Linda Brown said that changes would be implemented in a multi-year, multi-step process.

Her current focus is on bettering communication between parents and schools regarding TAG.

'It's a matter of making continuous improvements and being mindful of what we do,' Brown said. 'We think our improvements are on target and you'll see more.'

In other business:

n The board discussed the process by which novels are approved and agreed that both core (required) reading and extended (choice) reading should be approved through the board. Independent reading would not be board approved.

The board also discussed the process by which parents are notified of books with mature content or situations. Instead of a 'passive' notification, which requires sending a letter and summaries home with students, the board will consider an 'active' notification that could include sending information home via postal mail and possibly requiring parent signature.

'I don't have difficulty having books on the list that have materials in it that could be inappropriate or offensive to some people as long as parents are given the choice,' said Superintendant Bill Korach.

The board is working with Kimberly Wall, a Lake Oswego mother who came before the board recently to voice concerns about her sons' reading materials at LOJHS.

n The board approved Lakeridge High School's plans to add a concession stand to the back of the new gym. The Pacer Athletic Club will contribute $45,000 in donations and an additional $5,000 in pledges. The cost is estimated at $70,000, and PAC has agreed to advance funds beyond that amount. Board members recommended that PAC seeks donated materials from the greater community.

n Board member Linda Brown was selected as the new board chair and Rich Akerman was selected as the new board vice-chair for July, August and September.