Questions raised on gifted program Berger's responses fail to satisfy some

December 01, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Baltimore County School Superintendent Stuart D. Berger played to a packed house last night, but he didn't necessarily send away satisfied customers.

More than 1,200 parents, teachers and students, concerned about the county's Gifted and Talented program, jammed the auditorium at Loch Raven Senior High School, standing five and six deep in the rear aisle. But what one man called Dr. Berger's "nonchalant manner" did not satisfy the sometimes testy crowd, drawn to the meeting by rumors that the program would be diluted or even dissolved next year.

"I am absolutely frustrated by having to figure out how many more times I have to say the same thing. I am not interested in cutting the program at all. I am supportive of the program and I've always been supportive of the concept," Dr. Berger said.

The superintendent did say, however, that he would not back off from reviewing the program, which serves about 8,000 county students from elementary through high school.

"No program is immune from having somebody take a look at it," he said.

A committee of parents, teachers and administrators started last week to review the county program. It will make its recommendations in February for the next school year.

Dr. Berger said that he wants the program to be inclusive rather than exclusive, and for each school to have a say in which students would participate.

But the crowd, eager for a guarantee for the program's future, seemed unimpressed with his generalities.

"I don't think he's telling the whole truth," Kevin Dasch, a senior at Loch Raven Senior High, said as he left the auditorium. "He's going to look at it, and when he looks at it, he's going to change it."

Young Dasch, who has been in the Gifted and Talented program since sixth grade, said he thought change would hurt rather than help it and might even drive the top students away from county public schools.

One of the first questioners facing Dr. Berger was John Murray, a junior at Pikesville High who said he didn't want to hear "any philosophical stuff," but just wanted to know "will the Gifted and Talented program be available for students in Baltimore County next year."

"The answer to that question," Dr. Berger said, "is yes."

Dr. Berger often said he did not know about the specifics of the Gifted and Talented curricula, which left people wondering why he had come unprepared to the meeting of the Baltimore County Association for Gifted and Talented Education.

"I think he came very unprepared," said one parent, Ron Baldwin of Sparks. "The doctor keeps making the same answers over and over. He has not examined the curriculum."

Rodger Janssen, a Parkville parent, agreed. "I didn't get any satisfaction. It appears to me he's walking in circles."

Some of the program's supporters asked how the program could take in more students without "watering down" its quality, but they received no specific response. One woman who did not identify herself asked what seemed to be on many people's minds: "Why fix it if it's not broken?"

"I'm not saying it's broken," Dr. Berger replied. "I'm not saying it's broken -- I'm saying in these times that it ought to be looked at."

He did say that any change in the program would not be financially or politically motived. "I am interested in doing what is best," he said.

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