PSD expands services for ‘highly capable students’

Alice Kinerk

In January, local community members gathered to hear a group of Peninsula School District administrators, teachers, parents and school board members explain the reasons for the planned expansion of highly capable services.

First, according to documents available on the PSD website, educational research has shown that students who participate in accelerated courses when they are academically ready for them reap the benefit of increased learning while suffering minimal social or emotional impacts.

Secondly, the passage of HB 5922 a couple years back mandates expanded highly capable courses and offerings in every Washington state school district.

PSD has already been serving highly capable students through challenge programs in elementary classrooms, self-contained Hi-cap classrooms at the fourth and fifth grade levels, as well as clustering highly capable students at the middle school level, and pre-AP, as well as AP courses in high school. But there is more to do, officials say, and PSD has been educating the community about how these changes will look in our schools.

The changes are vast, and a complete list is available at the PSD website.

To highlight a few of the most significant changes at the elementary level, beginning in September 2015, highly-capable second and third-graders will have their own self-contained classroom. The district will add one second/third combined highly capable classroom at Minter Creek Elementary. Students selected for the class will have scored in the top 3 to 4 percent on the CogAT test given in March. Self-contained classrooms for both second and third highly capable students in Gig Harbor will be added at Voyager Elementary. The District will provide transportation for students who test into the program.

At the secondary level, the district will add highly capable classes in social studies/language arts as well as science. Math courses, which are already ability-grouped, will be altered to allow students who are capable of progressing more quickly to do so.  Pre-AP and AP offerings will also expand.

John Hellwich, PSD’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, explained that the HiCap expansion benefits all students.

"Gifted students often get a false sense of isolation or superiority when they are in a general classroom,”he said.

“One of the benefits of this kind of self-contained model is that students find their peer group often for the first time in school. They learn that they are not the smartest person in the room on all subject areas and how to be part of a team,”Hellwich said.

He said that a common myth associated with highly capable programs is that the rest of the students need the highest ability peers in the classroom for comparison.

“In fact, students compare to their peers who are similar instead of people who are very different in ability,” Hellwich said.

Kathryn Weymiller, PSD's director of community outreach, said there is an important difference between students who work hard to achieve at high levels and those who are cognitively gifted.

“Highly capable students are students with unique special needs, and expanding efforts to identify and serve them is very exciting," Weymiller said.

Hellwich said that achievers are the students who would do well with most classroom settings, have the answer to teachers’questions and can usually learn something new with a half a dozen repetitions.

“Highly capable students have a unique and often divergent way of thinking, often come up with a new question instead of an answer, and learn new concepts in one or two repetitions,”he said.

For testing and identification questions, contact Linda McQuade at (253) 530-1070. For program element questions, contact Joy Giovanini at