The quest to collect, archive, and document the evolution of advocacy groups for gifted education has been ongoing for decades. This month the urgency is reinforced by the loss of another of Wisconsin’s pioneers in the field. On March 18, 2021 Dr. Donna Rae Clasen, Processor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, passed away peacefully in her home at the age of 89.
There will be a more extensive memorial to her contribution to gifted education in a future edition of this blog. It is extensive, stretching from the early 1970’s to current days. Within the collection of WATG newsletters, the following paragraphs were found, with questions about gifted education in Wisconsin. We’re hoping to still answer some of these questions in 2021. The lines quoted were printed in the October 1992 newsletter of the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented. This was the year before the merging of the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented (WCGT) and the Wisconsin Association of Educators of Gifted and Talented (WAEGT) to form the current Wisconsin Association for Talented & Gifted (WATG).
“Our Historian, Bobbie Kinsinger and our Executive Secretary, Audrey Burkes, have been busy gathering and organizing memorabilia of the Wisconsin Council for the Gifted & Talented... Now we would like to ask for additional historical material. If you still have printed material...dating back to WCGT’s origins in the mid 1970’s, the office would be pleased to have it. We are especially looking for conference brochures, programs or photographs.” Do You Remember When?
Do you remember things that have happened ...regarding the early years of WCGT -- funny things, strange things, touching things? Do you remember the time years ago when the board had to take up a collection among themselves in order to put on the conference? Do you remember sitting on the floor of someone’s living room doing WCGT business? Do you remember a speaker or workshop that was especially memorable?”
Almost thirty years later, these questions remain valid and perhaps more ugent, because as pioneers age, collections are lost or destroyed and memories fade. The year 2023 will mark the 50th Anniversary Conference of our association. It remains a goal to have resolution to these questions and this process by that time. If you have connections with any of the early board members, activists, DPI personnel or local leaders, please contact them and share the information with the current Board. Our stories become our history.
Ruth Robinson, WATG Past President 2003-2004
“Your past success is a foundation into future success.” “The present defines the future.”
The second statement is attributed to Lailah Gifty Akita Gharnian, Founder of the Smart Youth Volunteers Foundation
These Gifted Meanderings attempt to document major accomplishments and influences on the advocacy for “systematic, appropriate programming for those gifted, talented, and creative.” Those words were shared so often in my career that they are etched permanently in my memory.
One of the major guidelines for this process was the Pyramid Model used for the Wisconsin Integrated Gifted Education Model. This is a three-dimensional model outlining programming options, support functions, and support roles, all resting on a base of a sound regular programming. The base established the premise that all students develop to their fullest potential. Our emphasis is always on all!
You may not be aware that this model was borrowed and should be credited to June Cox (M.Ed.) from the University of Illinois while she was Executive Director of the Gifted Students Institute in Fort Worth, Texas. It was included in a study funded by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation over the years 1981-1984. Implementing the results of that study resulted in the Pyramid Model used in Wisconsin and throughout the country. Remember that Wisconsin was the last state in the union to adopt statutes requiring services for gifted students in 1987.
During one of Dr. Robert Clasen’s classes or Conference sessions for TAG Coordinators, he added a suggested distribution of Coordinator’s time in service of the levels. He suggested percentages of the coordinator’s time that should be spent at each of the three levels of the Pyramid:
Considering every gifted position I ever held was roughly 50% of my job description, this became complicated! I worked in the Albany, Evansville, and Janesville Districts. No one ever thought gifted should be a full-time job, whether the district population was 500, 1,500 or 10,000 students.
The model provided a firm and comprehensive approach for districts to build programming, especially in the early years through the late 1980s and all the 1990s. Somewhere in the early 2000s, the Department of Public Instruction introduced the Response to Intervention framework for Special Education Services. Coincidentally, the first images were also that of a pyramid! With a little help from a more tech-savvy colleague, we flipped both so that the bases met in the center to form a sort of bell curve model. Several versions of this concept emerged around the state.
Today you will find updated and improved versions of the combined Gifted/RtI Model in the recently published books by Dr. Scott Peters, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater faculty, and past WATG Board Member. Therefore, my friends, it is up to you as the current generation of advocates and leaders to carry the banner for appropriate services forward into the 21st Century, and to document your progress as you go. Proceed!
Printed with permission from Dr. Scott Peters
Technology has grown and changed exponentially over the past years -- this is quite an understatement! As WATG and other organizations approach fifty years of organized advocacy for gifted education, historical documents provide insights and appreciation for those who began the process.
Many of WATG’s early letters and memos from the 1970’s were crafted in longhand and then typed, presumably by a secretary (if the author had the good fortune to have access to one). Interestingly, some were copied with carbon paper, as evidenced by multiple addresses appearing on their office copy. Phone calls were one-on-one conversations, and letters were sent via the United States Postal Service.
In the 1980’s we had some of our first virtual learning opportunities! However, the programs were broadcast on Wisconsin Public Television on Saturdays across the state. Dr. Robert Clasen and Dr. Donna Rae Clasen organized and recorded the programs, and produced booklets of readings and resource information manuals to accompany each series. There were weekly discussions on Mondays throughout the state on the Educational Teleconference Network (ETN). Participants needed to go to specific sites in order to participate. Coursework was available for credit, but it may have been Continuing Education Credits, which no longer exist. Who remembers?
There were five separate series of twelve sessions each with all of the accompanying readings, assignments, and projects. Series included guest lectures and articles from national giants in gifted education such as:
During all of these years, paper newsletters were composed, printed, and mailed to members each month. These newsletters were the standard communication mode for organizations at the time. They were also a major expense for the organization’s operation.
During these years, WATG’s Annual Conferences provided vital professional development for teachers, administrators, and parents. Conference planning also provided an opportunity for Board Members to have extended face-to-face meetings to strategize and plan. For the first 30 years or so, WATG sponsored fall and spring conferences. The spring conferences were usually smaller in scope. but were also vital for additional face-to-face Board Meeting time. Eventually, school budget restrictions, and multiple duties assigned to coordinators made leaving one’s district more difficult. As attendance dwindled, the spring conferences were eliminated in the early 2000’s.
With the advent of conference calls, monthly Board Meetings were conducted using new technology. Board Members were scattered across the state, it was finally possible to connect easily in new and exciting ways without traveling. While muting options were eventually available, sometimes evening conversations were difficult in households full of kids, dogs, dinner dishes, etc. Personally, I know I dozed off once or twice, hoping I was muted at the time!
With the advent of email, connections were fast and easy. The possibilities seemed endless. Listservs distributed news and ideas. Technology (when it worked!) was indeed a blessing. Computers and the Internet obviously expanded possibilities greatly. In 2002, I remember being so impressed when a member produced a PowerPoint of the mission, goals, and definitions of gifted education in Wisconsin on a three by five ‘floppy disk” that could be played on a loop in the lobby during Conference Registration.
In the early 2000’s WATG’s newsletter went online via a much-expanded and interactive website. Registrations, fee payments, and communications could now happen online, and instantaneously! Communication possibilities were once again expanded.
During this 21st century, student and educator coursework has changed dramatically; teaching has also changed dramatically. Students now have their own laptops or I-pads, usually provided by school districts. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 saw more virtual learning at all levels than ever anticipated. The educational scene has changed dramatically with the help of technology.
So many things that had to be produced and collected on paper are now available electronically, and with much more efficiency. Collaboration in real time is possible. Of course there are new issues to resolve, but technology marches on. Think about just going from impossibly slow dialup Internet connections, to wifi, to 5G!
In the history of WATG, there are more events that have evolved and changed our organization over the years; this history will be shared at another time.
Going forward into the 21st Century, it would be wise, I believe, for WATG to continue to have a technological archive of the website, newsletters, articles, and blogs. We are looking for ways to digitize and preserve our past. Current Board Members and interns who are digital natives should take over from digital immigrants like me! We certainly welcome their expertise.
Ruth Robinson, Past President, WATG
Starting a new year usually makes us all a little nostalgic. Granted, most of 2020 is best forgotten; however, some positives resulted. Technology allowed conferences to happen, virtual applications encouraged distant family members to see and speak to each other and helped friends keep in touch. Nostalgia reigned. Nostalgia crept into memories of past gatherings in better times and gives us hope for returning to those ‘in person’ events.
As a historian for WATG, I began thinking about the connection between nostalgia and advocacy for gifted children. There is hope for the future in remembering the past.
As I continued to sift and sort through historical records, I found my original request for help in documenting our organization’s history. That request originated in the spring of 2001! Now, twenty years later, the historical journey continues. All of these stories matter as they connect us to one another, to our past and to what is yet to come.
Here is a bit of historical perspective: The National Association for GIfted Children (NAGC) was founded in 1954. NAGC began requesting historical information about the affiliate state members in 2001 as they were approaching their 50th Anniversary in 2004. Looking forward, NAGC is approaching 70 years of existence in 2024, and WATG will celebrate 50 years of existence in 2023. Things have certainly changed, and we continue to celebrate the evolution of our organizations.
Over the years, WATG has shifted and adjusted to changing times, and has benefited from the persistent work of hundreds of advocates. Parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, counselors, librarians, social workers, psychologists, professors, business and medical leaders have dedicated countless hours of talent in the service of gifted children, and we thank them.
One of those advocates was Wisconsin’s current Governor Tony Evers. Governor Evers began his career in education as a classroom teacher in 1976, and later became interested in gifted education. His name is on many of the early documents of the Wisconsin Association of Educators of Gifted and Talented (WAEGT) and the Wisconsin Council for the Gifted and Talented (WCGT) beginning in the 1980’s. He served as a principal, superintendent, and CESA Administrator (Oshkosh) before moving to the State Department of Public Instruction as Deputy Superintendent from 2001-2009, and State Superintendent from 2009 to 2017.
Countless other volunteers have offered their time and talents over the years, and we are grateful for their passion. Though the “medium” has definitely changed, our message remains the same. Watch this column, Gifted Meanderings, for how technology use within the organization has changed over the decades. Some of the early connections will seem quaint and more than a little funny compared to Zoom, FaceTime, Google Meet and Facebook Chat! Certainly nostalgia may fuse the past with the present...
“If we have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” - Isaac Newton
Many pioneers have preceded us in their efforts to advocate for children as well as to provide
appropriate and systemic programs for gifted and talented youth. We lost one of those pioneers when
Lori Kay passed away on October 17, 2020.
Lori’s efforts on behalf of her three children started when they were preschoolers. Lori helped start the
Oregon Cooperative Preschool with Donna Mahr, another pioneer in the effort to advocate for gifted
and talented children.
Linda Uttech served as the Gifted Coordinator in the Oregon School District when Heidi, Erik, and Kietra
Kay were in school more than three decades ago now. Linda remembers that Lori was always
enthusiastic and eagerly contributed to gifted programming in Oregon and beyond. As a member of the G/T Advisory Committee, Lori fostered accelerated math courses, distance learning, and Advanced
Lori and her husband, Arlan, have always been partners in improving the school and the community.
Together they helped to launch Olympics of the Mind, now known as Odyssey of the Mind. Erik and
Kietra were some of the first participants along with their friends. Kietra was one of the first students in
Oregon to take advantage of Dual Enrollment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Lori Kay was on board in 1972 when parent advocates founded the Wisconsin Council for the Gifted and
Talented (WCGT). She held many positions on the Board of Directors, including President-Elect,
President, and Past President from 1988-1991. Previously, she had served as Chair of the Legal and
Legislative Committee from 1985-1988 during the crucial years when WCGT was advocating for the
addition of Standard (t) to the Statutes and Rules for Gifted Education in Wisconsin.
Lori’s dedication to the cause of gifted and talented youth was exemplary and extraordinary. Nothing
could stand in the way of her efforts. Carol Wright recalls that the Board of Directors had scheduled a
planning retreat for a weekend in February of 1990. We were going to meet in a dormitory at a Stevens
Point campground, and Wisconsin had just received a record snowfall. Lori called Carol on Friday
afternoon and said she was going to attend the retreat even though she was suffering from an attack of
appendicitis. Carol had all she could do to convince Lori that her surgery could not wait and that she as
President-Elect could handle the Board meeting. The Board of Directors did have a good time at the
retreat, but we did not accomplish as much as we would have if Lori had been there.
Lori, we shall miss your altruism, your energy, your imagination, your optimism, and your uniqueness.
We owe you an unending debt of gratitude.
Submitted by Carol Wright (WCGT President 1990-91) and Linda Uttech (WATG Board Member late 1990's-early 2000's) and Ruth Robinson (WATG President 2003-04)
(Note: although we have thousands of pages of records, newsletters, minutes and mementos, there may be additions or corrections needed for these meanderings. If anyone has connections to the people or events mentioned, please contact me through the WATG email at www.watg.org.)
In October of 2020, WATG proudly presented the 47th Annual Conference in an innovative virtual platform. In a very short time, we will celebrate the 50th Golden Anniversary Conference. The search for historical records began in 2002 when the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) began gathering information from the state affiliate members about their membership prior to their 50th Annual Conference in 2003. What a long and twisted trail this is!
When the first conference was held in 1973, the organization was known as the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented (WCGT), which had only been established the year before. A short time later the Wisconsin Association of Educators for Gifted and Talented (WAEGT) also formed. The earliest conference information I have found states that this took place in 1980.
By 1990, it became apparent that the two organizations could accomplish more if they joined forces. The process of melding the two groups into one organization took almost three years to finalize, with many meetings, letters, and negotiations. The first two years were led by co-presidents Jim Bokern, from the Marshfield School District and John Schmitt, from the Verona School District.
Before agreement was reached to name the combined group the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG), at least twenty suggestions were considered. What if one of these had been chosen?
Aren’t we glad WATG was the final, pronounceable (!) acronym? And aren’t we glad that WATG has been serving gifted children and families all of these years?
By Ruth Robinson, WATG president 2003-04
Everyone knows State Statute 118.35 “Programs for gifted and talented pupils” and State Statute 121,02 (1)(t) with specific requirements of such ‘programs’. But do you know when this conversation started in Wisconsin? I thought I did until I continued organizing records.
Connections go back further than ever. There is a copy of the 1903 Wisconsin Journal of Education, the official School Paper of the State, established in 1856, just eight years after statehood. In it, the discussion centers around ‘individualism in classroom instruction’. There was concern over a “lock-step system in the gradation and promotion of pupils that tended to hold back the brighter boys and girls back to the speed of the slowest member of the class’.
In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik which sparked renewed interest in science education in the United States. The same year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Guidance Institute for Talented & Gifted Students (GIFTS) was initiated through the Counseling Psychology Department. The twenty-fifth anniversary monograph of 1982 was monitored by Professor Phillip Perrone (1936-2018).
More recent work toward the statutes mentioned above began in 1970 when State Superintendent of Public Instruction, William Kahl, appointed an advisory committee ‘to research and provide structure for development of legislation and processes for gifted education
in Wisconsin’s public schools’.
The Wisconsin Council for the Gifted & Talented (WCGT) was established in 1972. The Wisconsin Association of Educators of Gifted & Talented (WAEGT) followed a few years later. They consolidated in 1991-92 to form the Wisconsin Association for Talented & Gifted, WATG.
The journey to the legislation quoted above began in December 1975 and concluded with the adoption of 118.33 in 1985 - a full ten year battle. Statute 121.02 specifying standards for gifted programs followed in 1987. The mandate went into effect in the fall of 1988. The fall WCGT
Conference in 1988 was”Planning for Gifted Education: Surviving or Thriving”.
So carry on this proud tradition into the 21st Century!