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Official: St John’s-JPS partnership looks promising for TAG program

By David Luessen

The Jamestown Sun

A pilot program offering services from Jamestown Public Schools to gifted students at St. John’s Academy is half over, and officials at both schools say they hope to see it continue.

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The Jamestown Public School Board voted in September to provide special classes in its Talented And Gifted (TAG) Program to students at the private school for the remainder of the 2013-14 school year.

St. John’s Principal Mark Wiest said the students he has observed in the program seem to be prospering.

“They’re smiling and enjoying themselves and I’ve heard them comment that, ‘This is hard, this really makes us think,’ and that’s good because that’s what you want to have happen,” Wiest said.

“Our long-term goal is to continue the program here at the school because I see a lot of benefits from those students who are involved in the program, especially those students who just need to be challenged more. It allows them to think more creatively and kind of spread their wings a little more.”

The TAG Program focuses on students in grades 2-5 who have demonstrated academic aptitude that could benefit from services beyond what is offered in regular classrooms and curriculums. Wiest said students in the program have been teacher recommended based on students’ strengths in the areas of learning motivation, creativity, mathematics and reading or otherwise had high scores on standardized tests.

JPS Superintendent Robert Lech said that since the program is based on standards instead of filling vacant seats, the teachers in the program had enough time during this year to take on the 14 TAG students from St. John’s along with the 91 students at Jamestown Public Schools.

“It really depends year to year, how many kids we have in TAG, because it’s a process in which students have to qualify. In some years we have more space than in others, and this was a year that we had a little more time available,” Lech said.

Lech said the partnership with St. John’s would be a “win-win scenario” for both schools, with St. John’s getting TAG services and JPS receiving help in funding a program it is already running. Also, St. John’s teaches kids in elementary grades, the majority of whom will wind up in the Jamestown Public Middle and High Schools.

The pilot program will be assessed by both institutions at the end of the school year. JPS is not charging St. John’s any fees for the service this year, and St. John’s covered the cost of materials and supplies the students would require. If the partnership continues next year, a cost-sharing agreement for the program would be established between the schools. Both Lech and Wiest expected the formula will be based on the number of TAG students in JPS and St. John’s.

Lech said the only obstacles he could foresee that would derail the partnership are if services are denied to JPS TAG students, if the program becomes inefficient with St. John’s inclusion, and if St. John’s can meet its portion of the cost share.

“The difficulty in working with St. John’s is they have a real limited budget so we have to make things work because they have to fundraise,” Lech said. “If they want to add programs it’s a much more detailed implementation process than it would be in a different scenario, so we have to be cognizant of that, too … St. John’s would need to know if they have to budget for TAG services if they want them, and of course they can’t until we figure out how the fee structure will work, so we have a bit of work left to do.”

Wiest said he recently discussed the cost-share with JPS officials.

“This was a pilot program this year just to see how it would flow with us and if it will work out for the teachers, and it has. So we’ll have to look at that and hopefully we can fund it,” Wiest said.

St. John’s enrollment has increased every year for the past four years and now stands at about 250 students. Weist said the Catholic school is open to all denominations and currently has 35 to 40 percent non-Catholics attending.

“The religious aspect as part of the curriculum is important for many parents,” said Wiest. “Parents like the fact that their students are taught religion daily, they pray in school, they go to church, and that’s really important to a lot of parents. We’re also very proud of the academics we offer; we feel that we really challenge our students and have an academic program that will prepare our students for the next step.”

Sun reporter David Luessen can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at