A few years ago if parents received a letter from the Mankato school district notifying them their child qualified as “gifted,” the answer to what that meant wasn’t always crystal clear.

Much has changed since the district hosted a forum in 2012 in which parents indicated they weren’t sure how students were being identified as talented and gifted and were concerned about a lack of consistency in the services being offered.

A 2014 audit by two gifted and talented education experts from the University of St. Thomas highlighted several ways the program could be improved, and that appears to be exactly what has happened in the district. This month three Mankato Area Public Schools administrators were lauded by a national gifted association for their work in the district’s program.

Supt. Sheri Allen and Heather Mueller, director of teaching and learning, 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.

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 that helped them revamp the program. The district developed new student identification protocols, differentiated instruction at the lower grade levels and advanced classes in the upper grades, established a program for typically underrepresented elementary students, and provided teacher training.

That means that in math and language arts the district now groups students in third through sixth grade by achievement level and provides instruction specialized to their level. At the middle school level, the district has advanced math and language arts course options. At the high school level, college-credit-earning courses are offered in a number of subjects. And a new Rising Scholars program is designed for elementary students from diverse backgrounds who are on the cusp of qualifying as gifted.

All of the hard work paid off for the district by gaining it and its administrators well-deserved recognition from the National Association for Gifted Children. But, of course, the biggest benefit is that the students are better served by a much improved program.

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