District’s Gifted Education May Change

BROOKSVILLE – Gifted education is set to change considerably for students in Hernando County.

With the Hernando County School Board’s decision Tuesday to place the district’s future gifted education center at Spring Hill’s Explorer K-8, the new, 2,100-student school set to open this August off Northcliffe Boulevard, there is much to be learned about the gifted program itself.

Defining ‘gifted’

A student is defined as “gifted” if he, or she, scores at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score of 130 (minus the standard “error of measurement” of three points) and meets at least one characteristic of a gifted student on the state’s standard scale or checklist.

An average IQ is thought to be in the range of 85 to 115.

But it’s not quite that simple.

If the student does not meet state criteria, they can also qualify under a Plan B, or socioeconomic plan meant to assist various subgroups.

In Hernando County, a student can qualify for this if they have a mean IQ score of 120 and are a member of an underrepresented group – such as a low socioeconomic level or if English is not their first language.

This year, the district reported 2.5 percent of its 22,708 students as gifted. The current state average is 4.9.

One reason the state average is higher may be because different counties use different alternate criteria to identify children as gifted.

However, at press time, a request to obtain other districts’ Plan B information had not yet been filled.

Another reason is that counties such as Alachua County – where many of the school system’s students are children of University of Florida faculty members – boast a significantly higher percentage of gifted students, increasing the average, said Cathy Dofka, Hernando’s Director of Exceptional Student Education.

Currently, 14 percent of students in Alachua County are identified as gifted.

There are even larger discrepancies between states, with some states not even requiring IQ score as an identifying factor. While Florida has kept its standard high by labeling its program as “gifted,” other states have a program known as “gifted and talented,” in which teacher recommendation – not IQ – is the determining factor.

Identifying ‘gifted’

Once identified, students who qualify as “gifted” fall under the umbrella of exceptional student education, or ESE, and bring in about $2,100 more in state per-student funding.

With the creation of the new gifted center, local officials expect to see a rise in the county’s percent of gifted children for several reasons.

One reason is because they believe many other local students have simply not been identified – either because teachers don’t know what to look for, or because parents haven’t bothered to request testing because local gifted offerings were not enough of an incentive to do so.

“The gifted task force is looking at the (ways in which) we can train teachers on how to look for (students who would benefit from gifted classes), such as kids that don’t perform well in certain areas but might be gifted,” Dofka said.

An IQ test itself has nothing to do with academics. It typically consists of verbal and nonverbal activities, such as visual puzzles.

Students may be tested by a school psychologist more than once, if parents or teachers deem it necessary.

Parents may also pay to have their child tested by an independent psychologist in the community – and as long as the psychologist says the student meets the criteria, they’re admitted to the program.

With the opening of the new center, officials are also hoping it will attract families with gifted children who move to the area from elsewhere.

However, while the initial identifying requirements may vary by region, a student who is considered gifted elsewhere is automatically considered eligible for the district’s gifted services.

Once a student has been identified, their parent can choose whether or not they want their child to receive gifted services, which includes enrollment in instructional programming and an individualized progress report known as an educational plan, or EP.

A parent may pull their child out of gifted classes at any time, and reenter them in the program when they deem appropriate. Students do not have to be retested to reenter the program.

The program now

The gifted program aims to develop the following skill areas in students: critical thinking, creativity, communication, leadership, research, self awareness and career/future.

Its curriculum tends to focus on creative activities and “higher-order thinking skills” that would not necessarily be found in a regular classroom, Dofka said.

Currently, services vary by school.

Gifted children at J.D. Floyd, Moton and Suncoast Elementary Schools are pulled out of class one day per week for instruction in interdisciplinary units and a cross-curriculum approach to science, math, reading and social studies. At Chocachatti Elementary School and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, students follow this model, and are also with their gifted teacher for one period in an “inclusion” setting, in which the teacher joins the students’ regular classroom to co-teach social studies, science or math.

In middle school, students receive gifted instruction in reading and language arts for two periods per day, with curriculum matched to their ability level and other options including advanced instruction and core subjects and art, music and foreign language.

While gifted students may take gifted classes in high school, most choose to enroll in International Baccalaureate or advanced placement classes instead – which is why district officials chose to focus the centralized program on younger students.

Contrary to popular belief, gifted classes are not simply “a grade level above” regular classes. Instead, students are encouraged to learn as much as they can and are capable of, Dofka said.

However, not all students are “gifted” in all areas.

“They’re kids,” she said. “They have strengths and weaknesses just like other kids. We have kids in there that are gifted in a lot of areas, but others who might not be strong in everything.”

Gifted children – who can be years ahead of their peers academically, but underdeveloped emotionally – often think abstractly and with complexity, and may need help with study and test taking skills, Dofka said.

A centralized program

The center will aim to place more than 400 of the county’s kindergarten through eighth-grade students in gifted classes in one location, instead of the district’s current means of offering separate classes at each school.

“The gifted center will have gifted (education) all day, every day,” Dofka said.

The number of gifted students whose parents actually decide to switch to the new school is yet to be determined.

Now, the gifted task force has until March 31 to submit its recommendations to the board concerning curriculum and other details of the centralized program.

“The task force is currently working on curriculum models, used all over the world, to see what’s best for our county,” Dofka said. “That’s the best thing for our kids right now. We’re going to work on differentiating to their ability levels and going above and beyond what we’ve (been doing).”

Other questions yet to be answered include rules regarding siblings of gifted children, how much transportation will be needed and how much money the program will ultimately cost.

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or lbrown@hernandotoday.com.

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Right place, right time

SPRING HILL – It was rare air Friday night at Booster Stadium.
Sophomore midfielder Cristina Passafaro hustled to retrieve a loose ball toward her bench late in the second half against non-conference, non-district foe, Inverness-Citrus High.
As Passafaro collected the ball, she never hesitated in ripping a return shot six feet inside the near post in front of sophomore Hurricane goalkeeper Paige Verity.
Verity, in her first-ever varsity start between the pipes, had played outstanding up to that point with nine saves.
But in a blink, Eagle senior striker Taylor McKinney rushed in and headed Passafaro’s feed into the back of the net at 69:29. Verity had no chance to react, it happened that fast.
McKinney’s team-leading 15th goal of the season was backed by a stifling Springstead defense handcuffing the Inverness crew to two shots on goal in pacing the Lady Eagles’ 1-0 win.
The backline defense paced by Paige Alexsuk, Kaitlyn Duke, Ashley Southall and sweeper Jackie Holtje made things easier for senior goalkeeper Jennifer DeFrancesco (two saves) to etch her school-record 14th shutout of the season.
Friday’s blanking snapped the old school mark of 13 shutouts set by Julie Taylor in 1993-94 and tied by DeFrancesco last winter.
Just as important, for a team that graduated six seniors from its school-record squad in 2006-07, the Lady Eagles managed to tie Head Coach John Bifulco’s 1992-93 school record for longest non-losing skein (16 matches).
The Lady Eagles, who fell at Zephyrhills on Nov. 7 (4-1), stretched their non-losing streak to 12-0-4 since.
Though the Hurricanes (10-4-1 overall) were out shot 20-2 overall, fourth-year Head Coach Chris Gatto was not disappointed with the effort.
“We did good tonight,” acknowledged Gatto, who inserted Verity because his first two keepers (Kelsey Keating -ill; Katie Young-wisdom teeth pulled) were out of the lineup. “A one-goal game is always exciting. I thought both teams played real hard. (Springstead Head Coach) Polo (Furlong) does a nice job.”
What did Gatto take from his team’s second shutout in its past three matches?
“We need to make more shots,” Gatto insisted. “And make more opportunities. You’ve got to turn chances to score into opportunities. (Defensively) Our keeper (Verity) did a great job considering she’s a forward. We’re very happy with the overall effort.”
Meanwhile, along the home sideline, DeFrancesco’s 27th career shutout is two behind Taylor’s career mark of 29.
“The record tastes feels really good right now,” beamed DeFrancesco. “But I know I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my defense. Everybody worked together to make this happen.”
How much does this mean?
“It means a lot,” declared DeFrancesco. “All the hard work I’ve put in has begun to pay off. The key was we played again like we know how.”
Lone goal
Passafaro’s seventh assist of the season allowed Coach Furlong to improve to 51-12-6 lifetime. He’s 3-0-1 lifetime against CHS.
Passafaro was asked about the game’s lone goal.
“I don’t remember everything but after I hit the ball back (toward the net) I heard our bench cheering,” recalled the 15-year-old Passafaro. “I thought “Look at that?’
“Tonight, I think we played well,” added Passafaro. “We just had a hard time finishing.”
On the receiving end of the cross, McKinney gleamed.
“I love headers,” she declared. “I’ve probably only scored three true goals all season. I score mostly on headers.”
How sweet was DeFrancesco’s school record?
“Jennifer is my idol,” smiled the freckled face McKinney. “I’m so happy for her.”
A post-match Furlong admired the game’s lone goal.
“On the cross, their keeper couldn’t do a thing with it,” said Furlong. “Tonight, was one of those matches, where it was one goal and you win.
“Like I’ve said all year long, our defense has been solid,” Furlong insisted. “So far, we’re undefeated at home (9-0-1). We started kinda slowly. That’s natural. It’s our first match since returning from the break.”
What about DeFrancesco’s new standard?
“I feel good for Jennifer,” remarked Furlong. “Its a great to be a senior and leave school with a record. It’s an amazing accomplishment and says something not only about her but about our entire team.”

Springstead 1, Citrus 0
Citrus 0 0 – 0
Springstead 0 1 – 1
Goals – SPG: McKinney.
Assists – SPG: Passafaro.
Shots on goal – CIT: 2, SPG: 20.
Saves – CIT: Verity 9; SPG: DeFrancesco 2.
Yellow Cards – none.
Blue Cards – none.
Red Cards – none.
Records: Citrus (10-4-1 overall), Springstead (14-1-4 overall).

Sports Editor Tony Castro can be reached at (352) 544-5278 or online at acastro@hernandotoday.com.

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VA Clinic Expands At PineBrook

BROOKSVILLE – Up until recently, some mental health patients at the VA Community Clinic on Cortez Boulevard communicated with psychologists in Tampa via two-way television monitors.

“Obviously, that’s not ideal,” Leonard Orban, chief medical officer at the Brooksville clinic, said Friday.

A second psychologist, Guillermo Cadena, joined the clinic staff last summer, but space was so tight he was relegated to a file room.

Now Cadena, the other psychologist and support staff are seeing patients in a 1,100-square-foot suite in the PineBrook Medical Center. The medical center has housed the clinic for the last 10 years. The mental health division expanded into the suite in November.

The consultations via television are no longer necessary.

“It’s nice to have the whole team together in one space,” Cadena said. And, he added, “It’s more private.”

Officials will celebrate the new space with a ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11.

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite will be on hand.

The Brooksville Republican pushed for funding for the extra space, as she did for the clinic’s first expansion in 2004, to ensure reasonable wait times for appointments as the county’s veteran population grows.

“The need is there,” Brown-Waite said in an interview last week.

In 2005, the Brooksville clinic had 19,773 visits. That number jumped to 23,909 in 2006 and climbed again to 26,000 last year.

Brown-Waite, whose 5th Congressional District has the second-highest number of veterans of any district in the nation, said “today’s warriors” need to be considered, too.

“We have to remember we have (military personnel) serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and they’ll be coming back and needing services,” she said.

Orban, the PineBrook chief medical officer, said the wait time for appointments is 30 days or less in most cases. Wait times to see a psychologist have dropped in the last two months since the expansion, he said.

In addition to a second psychologist, the clinic also recently added a fourth physician and a nurse case manager. Two more nurses and three additional clerks also will come on board soon, Orban said.

He also hopes to add a third psychologist.

Adding several staff members would have been difficult or impossible without the expansion, he said.

“We were packed to the gills,” Orban said.

The clinic had operated with roughly 8,000 square feet since 2004. Officials limited the most recent expansion to 1,100 square feet so as not to surpass a total square-footage of 10,000.

Expansion beyond that requires Congressional approval and oversight and must be included in the VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES, program.

The program, established in 2004, acts as a guide for where the VA will invest in capital projects to provide additional medical services.

It can be a lengthy process, however, and Brown-Waite and other officials wanted to make sure the Brooksville Clinic got at least some extra space as soon as possible.

The Brooksville clinic is one of five community-based clinics under the auspices of James A. Haley Veterans Hospital that provide primary care and behavioral care services so veterans don’t have to travel to Tampa.

The other four clinics are in Zephyrhills, Lakeland, Kissimmee and Sanford.

New Port Richey has a larger outpatient clinic that provides more specialist services than the community clinics. Veterans from Hernando County visit that 40,000-square-foot facility for a full range of primary and mental health care and laboratory services, as well as access to an array of specialist services such as orthopedics, radiology and dermatology.

Brown-Waite said that she fielded many complaints about waiting times at the clinic after she was first elected in 2002.

Now she receives hardly any and said she plans to work with the VA to help it stay that way: Her office is currently compiling data on expected growth in Hernando and surrounding counties that Brown-Waite said will show a need for a new clinic in Brooksville.

It could be as large as 30,000 square feet and built by 2011, she said.

“My job is to convince the CARES Commission of that,” Brown-Waite said. “I think veterans will help me.”

If You Go

WHAT: Ribbon-cutting for the expanded Brooksville VA Community-based Clinic.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

WHERE: PineBrook Medical Center, 14540 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.

CONTACT: 352-597-8287.

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or lmarrero@hernandotoday.com.

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Gang Presence On The Rise

SPRING HILL – The teenager with the red handkerchief

across his face dances for the camera, keeping time to

a beat only he can hear.

As he bobs and postures for the camera, his hands began

forming intricate signs and signals, including the word


The 17-second video ends with the teen pointing an

imaginary gun at the camera and squeezing off several


That’s what chills Detective Pete Ciucci.

He collected the footage during a “knock and talk” not

long ago at the teen’s Spring Hill home. A tip that the

teen was carrying a gun led him to the house and his

mother invited the detective inside.

She gave him permission to look through her son’s room.

There were no weapons, but Ciucci did find bead

necklaces, an ashtray covered in gang signs and a

closet full of mostly red and black clothes.

The detective also noticed a digital camera and asked

the teen if he could flip through the pictures. As he

did so, he came across video footage of the teen

“stacking” or flashing his hand signs.

“Can you do that for me again?” Ciucci asked as he

flipped on his own camera.

Though alarming, the video captured that night was

nothing more than a footnote in a new chapter for

Spring Hill.


Historically, there have only been a few pockets of

gang members in Hernando County. They mostly kept a low

profile and were considered more of a nuisance than a


But things have changed.

The teen Ciucci recorded wasn’t arrested that night

because it’s not illegal to be a gang member. But

within a few days, he was charged with aggravated

assault for attempting to run over a rival with a car.

That is a crime.

There are other signs that the gang presence is


Within the past month, a man was stabbed in the arm by

a rival gang member. The suspect in the guerilla knife

attack was aiming for the chest and missed.

Ciucci said a marijuana grow house busted at 4456

Chamber Court last week had ties to gang members.

Teens gathering outside bowling alleys, movie theaters

and parks are exchanging complicated handshakes. One

teen told Ciucci he wouldn’t go to Beacon Theater alone

on a Friday night for fear he would be jumped by the

rival gang.

The fights spill out into the street. Neighbors will

call and say there are packs of kids facing off at a

certain intersection that borders a territory. Deputies

will race over with lights and sirens and the

confrontation dissolves as the suspects flee and

discard baseball bats and other weapons.

They’ll claim it was just a get together, Ciucci said,

but their body language tells you differently. That and

the gang tattoos on a bare chest.

Territorial graffiti is flaring up again. On Wednesday

night, Delta Woods Park on Deltona Boulevard was the

target. Most of the letters and symbols are

incomprehensible to the uninitiated, but Ciucci knows

what it means when the Crips spray BK about their rival

gang: Blood Killer.

“This is not Compton or Miami, it’s more loosely

organized,” Ciucci said. “But we’re still pulling guns

and drugs off the streets.”

When Ciucci took the post as the gang detective for the

sheriff’s office four years ago, his job mostly

entailed giving talks to school kids about not falling

into gang activity.

Now he has 200 people at any given time on his radar

believed or known to be gang members. That doesn’t

include the friends or associates that hang out with



But are these real, documented gang members or just

teens up to no good?

A little bit of both. Spring Hill hosts its own gang

chapters, such as the Pinehurst Crew and 20 Deep. In

today’s Internet age, it’s easy to learn all of the

handshakes, signs, colors and philosophies of notorious

gangs such as the Crips and Bloods.

There has also been an influx of hardcore gang members

to Hernando County that are spreading their street

knowledge and bolstering ranks. One person proudly

proclaims he has been with Piru Bloods since he was


“It’s alarming because they’re not trying to hide it,”

Ciucci said.

But anyone posing as a gang member has to realize that

there will come a time when they will be tested. If

confronted by a genuine rival, they can either run or

assert their membership in the gang. That’s a big step

towards becoming a documented gang member.

The National Gang Crime Research Center has been

tracking gang trends for 17 years. Its director, George

Knox, finds that crackdowns on gangs in major cities

drive the members to small counties like Hernando.

“The natural tendency is to move where they can operate

in impunity,” he said.

Lockup in a juvenile detention facility or the county

jail also exposes budding gangsters to dedicated

members. A conversation is struck up about a gang

tattoo and the rest is history, Knox said.


It’s not all bad news.

School resource officers have made “a serious dent”

towards preventing violence in the schools and spotting

dangerous trends, Ciucci said.

Detectives in the Major Case and Vice and Narcotics

divisions openly communicate with Ciucci if they

suspect gang activity is tied to their case.

But largely it’s the information pipeline from the

street that keeps Ciucci busy. Street sources are

calling to say where a fight is brewing, who has hits

out, people to keep an eye on.

And not everyone dabbling in gangs is headed towards a

lifetime of crime. Sometimes Ciucci informally counsels

his informants and it pays off. “I just got a call from

guy who wants to give me some information,” Ciucci

said. “I asked him what he wanted in return and he said

nothing. He just started thinking about what I told

him, that he could go to prison for life and someone

else would raise his kid. That stuck in his mind.”

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Why The Liberals Want The US To Lose The War In Iraq

Why the liberals want the U.S. to lose the war in Iraq

This past week convinced me that the left, especially the Democratic Congress, does not appreciate the fact that we are at war. When one is in a war, one attempts to amass as many allies as possible. It may be that some of these allies have significant moral differences.

A good example was the Soviet Union during World War II or Saddam Hussein during the war between Iran and Iraq. The adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” holds true.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, killed over a million Armenians. Today, we call that genocide.
Our Congress led by the Democrats picked this particular time to announce to the world how wrong that was and passed a resolution in a committee. Now the speaker, Ms. Pelosi, is trying to have the entire House pass this resolution. As a result, Turkey has recalled its ambassador, and is massing troops on the Iraqi border to deal with Kurdish rebels who conduct raids across the border into Turkey. Much of our supplies to support our troops in the war in Iraq pass through or over Turkey.
Why would our Democratic-led Congress pick this particular time to bring up this issue? There is only one reason — to make it more difficult for the U.S. to win this war in Iraq.

Sen. Harry Reid has declared that the war is lost. Rep. John Murtha has accused Marines of murder before any investigation, and investigations have proved that he was wrong.

Sen. John Kerry has accused our troops of acting like terrorists in the dead of night. Sen. Richard Durbin has likened our troops to the worst in the Pol Pot regime, the SS in Germany and the Gulags in Russia. Sen. Ted Kennedy has said that Abu Grahib is under new management and is no different than when Saddam ran it. The current resolution is merely another ploy to make it more difficult to win this war, especially since the surge is doing so well.
Since the left has done so much to make it more difficult to win this war, then they will be unable to revel in any type of victory.

Therefore, they must do whatever is necessary to ensure that victory does not occur. There will be many who do not agree with me, but just look at the facts. Who has been denigrating our military, who is constantly portraying nothing but bad news, and who insists that incompetence is the norm in the running of the war? The answer is always the same — the liberals and leftist lawmakers.

As of Wednesday, the Turkish parliament has authorized cross border attacks into northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels who have been raiding into Turkey. The Turkish prime minister has stated that an attack is not eminent. Since we are showing such little regard for an ally, that ally may just do the same.

Don Myers is a retired Marine colonel living in Spring Hill. He is a columnist for Hernando Today.

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