MANKATO — Four years after receiving a grant to strengthen its programs for gifted students, Mankato Area Public Schools is receiving national recognition.

Three Mankato administrators are being honored by the National Association for Gifted Children.

The organization's mission is to “support those who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education, advocacy, community building and research.” The association is holding its annual convention this week in the Twin Cities.

Mankato Supt. Sheri Allen and Director of Teaching and Learning Heather Mueller are together receiving the association's Administrator of the Year Award. Tania Lyon, the district's gifted education coordinator, is receiving one of two annual Gifted Coordinator Awards.

The district is being recognized for its work to enhance its supports for gifted students. In partnership with the University of St. Thomas, the district received a three-year $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2014.

The grant helped the district develop new student identification protocols, differentiated instruction at the lower grade levels and advanced classes in the upper grades, a program for typically underrepresented elementary students, and teacher training.

In math and language arts, Mueller and Lyon said the district now groups students in third through sixth grade by achievement level and provides instruction specialized to their level.

A new Rising Scholars program is designed for elementary students from diverse backgrounds who are on the cusp of qualifying as gifted. This program also targets students who are excelling in one area but have special needs in another area.

At the middle school level, the district has advanced math and language arts course options. At the high school, college-credit-earning courses are offered in a number of subjects, Mueller and Lyon said.

Parent Jean Keenan, of North Mankato, was a member of the gifted advisory committee and along with St. Thomas professors nominated the district administrators for the awards.

“I have joyfully witnessed the implementation of strategic, flexible grouping and the development and acquisition of engaging curriculum materials and strategies across grade levels,” Keenan wrote in her nomination letter. “There has been an administrative expectation that teachers implement these strategies and the necessary supports have been put in place for them to successfully do so.”

Mueller said the award is gratifying but won't cause leaders to relax on their commitment to improve opportunities for gifted students.

“We are appreciative of this award but we recognize we continue to have work to do,” she said.

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