Nearly half of Olentangy students considered gifted

By Gary Budzak -

Nearly half of Olentangy school district’s students are gifted, school officials said at a recent Board of Education meeting.

“We have 8,639 students in Olentangy Local Schools who have at least one area of gifted identification,” said Melany Ondrus, supervisor of gifted education. “That’s about 43 percent of our total population. We are very fortunate to have a large number of high-performing students in the district.”

Ondrus clarified the number, saying that it included seniors from the class of 2016, but it did not include kindergarten and first-grade students.

The Ohio Department of Education defines gifted students as those “who perform or show potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared to others of their age, experience or environment.”

Ohio law requires districts to identify students who are gifted, but they do not have to serve all of them. A district may use state-approved operating standards if it does provide service for gifted students. Olentangy students receive direct services when assessments establish they have superior cognitive ability, and high academic achievement.

All Olentangy students who are identified as gifted receive consultation, mentoring and advanced classes, Ondrus said. Some are placed in the same homeroom, and some receive direct services. Ondrus said 1,894 students receive direct services, which is 10 percent of the district’s population. She said that percentage is similar to the number of special education students in the district.

A few students receive accelerated learning if they are above their grade level in a subject such as math.

The district has 21 advanced placement courses, plans to offer a two-year capstone course at Orange High School this fall and at the other high schools the following year. She said Orange is one of the few schools in the country to get the course. In addition, the gifted students are given more rigorous, but not additional, coursework.

Ondrus said gifted students had plenty of extracurricular clubs and events to participate in, such as the Robotics Club and Invention Convention.

“We continue to look at advanced opportunities for students that will support their needs, both in and outside the district,” she said. “Our gifted specialists often lead and execute a lot of these, and are involved in the initial beginnings of these clubs and the professional development for staff.”

Gifted specialists co-plan the curriculum and co-teach the classes. Olentangy has 27 gifted specialists, with one for all 16 elementary schools, 10 in the middle schools, and one at the high-school level.

“We’re really excited to have this level of staffing and this level of staff commitment to the gifted students in the district,” Ondrus said. “This is something other districts don’t have. We’re very fortunate.”

In a 2016 survey, 49 percent of Olentangy parents were satisfied with the gifted services their children were receiving, up from 28 percent in 2014. Ondrus attributed the improvement to better communication.

On the most recent state report card, all 20 buildings in the district received an A grade in gifted progress, with 11 among the top 10 in the state.

“We are doing a phenomenal job when it comes to growing our gifted students and pushing them to extend their learning and challenge them in our classrooms,” Ondrus said. “It’s really a testament not only to our gifted specialists, but also to our classroom teachers who are participating in professional development.”

The gifted progress score was a 38, which was the highest value-added growth in the state. A score of 2 was needed to receive an A.

Oddly, though, the district’s “gifted performance indicator” was not met, prompting a comment from Superintendent Mark Raiff.

“How we can have the highest value added in the state and not meet this indicator makes no sense,” Raiff said. “We have difficulty explaining it internally to educators who are supposed to understand this stuff. A recent survey said the public doesn’t pay attention to these state report cards.”

By Gary Budzak

Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.

Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.