The World Council Moves to Kentucky, USA


We learned this week that the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC) is relocating from its current base at the University of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

It will move to Western Kentucky University (WKU), Bowling Green, Kentucky, USA with effect from 1 January 2011.

The World Council website says that the decision to move was taken by the WCGTC Executive Committee at its September meeting, but this was not made public until a 16 November press conference at WKU.

History

The Council moved to Winnipeg on 31 August 2005, relocating from its previous home in California. It would be fair to say that the Council is a much-travelled organisation: WKU is the eighth base it has inhabited in the past 32 years.

  • In 1979 a permanent secretariat was established at Teachers College, Columbia, New York;
  • In 1983 it transferred to the University of South Florida, Tampa
  • In 1988 it went to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas
  • In 1993 it moved to Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
  • In 1995 it could be found at the University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • In 1997 it was hosted by a Business Consultancy in Northridge California

and from there on to Winnipeg and now to Kentucky. The narrative on the World Council website suggests that money has often been associated with these migrations – either not enough at the current host, or the prospect of more elsewhere.

Winnipeg

The press notice which marked the transfer to Winnipeg was optimistic:

‘This announcement today testifies to the international renown of The University of Winnipeg’s Bachelor of Education Program,” said Lloyd Axworthy, University President, “and the University’s mission to develop global citizens. Having the World Council headquartered on our campus underscores the University’s commitment to access, education research, and to gifted education and the preparation of gifted educators.’

The Associate Dean of Education at the University of Winnipeg at the time was Dr Ken McCluskey, now Dean of the Faculty of Education. His was the gifted education ‘name’ linked with the move to Canada, just as others had been associated with some of the earlier migrations. The attractive combination of money and a ‘name’ have been instrumental in this latest relocation as we shall see.

There is continuing activity at Winnipeg, which advertises a Masters in Gifted Education run in conjunction with the University of New England, Armidale, New South Wales, Australia. It will surely survive the departure of the World Council, for it is hard to find evidence that the relationship with the Council made Winnipeg an international powerhouse in the field over the past five years.

Part of the problem might have been that Winnipeg was a little off the beaten track, especially for the gifted education community in the United States, a nation which does perhaps have something of a reputation for its insularity. That said, Winnipeg is a substantial city of some 700,000 people on the edge of the Canadian Prairies which has good road and rail links with the US and its own international airport.

Western Kentucky University

WKU is home to the Center for Gifted Studies, led by Julia Link Roberts, the Mahurin Professor of Gifted Studies and Executive Director of the Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky. She also serves on the Board of the Kentucky Association for Gifted Education which is based at WKU.

And she is the current Treasurer of the World Council, sitting on the eight-strong Executive Committee which took the decision to move to her University. (I am sure she will have abstained from any vote on the matter given the apparent conflict of interest.)

The official press release from WKU contains echoes of Winnipeg’s five years earlier, and is no less optimistic:

‘”It is an honor for WKU to become the host institution for the World Council,” WKU President Gary Ransdell said. “We have long placed a high premium on gifted studies and have built a reputation as the center for the education of gifted and talented young minds. Locating the World Council headquarters here will further strengthen WKU’s commitment to this important priority and, we believe, enhance the Council’s work across the globe. It is one more important way in which our vision to be a leading American university with international reach is being realized.”’

But from this distance and perspective, the relocation seems geographically a retrograde step – leaving aside the fact that US gifted educators will not have to cross a national border to get to the World Council’s HQ.

For Bowling Green, Kentucky is only the fourth most populous city in Kentucky – around 57,000 strong – located midway between Nashville and Louisville. It has its own airport but it provides no public services.

Were we inclined to venture into the murky world of institutional reputations, we would find that, whereas the ‘4 International Colleges and Universities’ 2010 ranking has the University of Winnipeg as the world’s 1080th best university in 2010, WKU is ranked 1,776th (though I’m not quite sure what that tells us about the comparative strengths of the two universities).

Neither is amongst the Times’ top-rated universities in North America. But The USA News has WKU as the 35th best university and 13th best public university in the Southern region of the United States in 2011.

But WKU is clearly an ambitious institution. Its Strategic Plan opens with a vision statement:

‘WKU – A leading American University with international reach’

and one of its performance indicators is to achieve 10th place in the USA News regional public university rankings by 2011-12. Will the arrival of the World Council help it to leapfrog the two institutions immediately above it in the rankings?

The Center for Gifted Studies

Some might quibble with Ransdell’s use of the definite article in respect of the CGS (though it may well be true if the reputation he was describing relates only to institutions in the state of Kentucky).

But the wider aspiration is certainly there in the Center’s own vision statement:

‘Becoming an internationally preeminent center…expanding services in five areas: (1) offering educational programs for gifted children and youth, (2) providing professional development opportunities for educators, (3) enhancing communication and advocacy for gifted children, (4) conducting research and developing curriculum to remove the learning ceiling, and (5) building a testing and counseling component for gifted children and their families.’

I don’t really know where CGS sits in the current pecking order of US centers for gifted education. Certainly there are several others better known on this side of the Atlantic, but that may be a consequence of past reputation rather than current performance.

The online evidence suggests that it is a mid-sized gifted education provider which has a strong customer base in Kentucky, an established national reach and some experience of international collaboration.

The annual capacity of the children’s programmes are 600 for Super Saturdays (8×2.5 hours a year); 200 for SCATS and a further 200 for VAMPY. But CGS has the advantage of longevity – it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year – so it can point to some strong cumulative numbers:

  • A $2 million 5-year Javits research grant shared with the Warren County Schools to develop elementary children’s maths and science talent, the third Javits grant it has received;
  • A long-running Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth (VAMPY) benefiting almost 4,000 children and a Summer Camp for Academically Talented Middle School Students (SCATS) benefiting 4,600 children;
  • Around 18,500 children have attended the Super Saturdays programme;
  • 30 international study tours and participants from 33 countries have attended Center programmes;
  • Over 300 educators have earned a gifted education endorsement at WKU, 500 have taken part in a Leadership Institute and 6,200 have taken part in a one-week Advanced Placement Institute; 100 administrators have attended an Administrators Institute;
  • 400 parents and 440 educators have attended sessions and workshops on the social and emotional needs of gifted children; and
  • The Center’s magazine has a twice-yearly circulation of 17,000.

Another KPI in WKU’s strategic plan was to establish the Academy of Math and Science – now the Gatton Academy – as Kentucky’s premier centre for G&T education. The cost was projected at $11m.

The Academy opened in 2007 and has an intake of about 60 students a year – total number on roll is 126, all residential places. The students complete their junior and senior high school years and 60 hours of college credit.

The terms of the relationship

We know from the press conference that the World Council will be based in a brand new $35m College of Education Building, presumably right alongside the CGS. It will employ two staff: a lead administrator and an IT-literate assistant.

And a benefactor couple – Peter and Dixie Mahurin, whose daughter attended WKU gifted events in the 90s – are gifting the University $750K to make the move possible. The Mahurins already meet the cost of Professor Roberts’ Chair.

We do not know what exactly the $750K will pay for, over and above any office space rental from WKU and the salaries and on-costs of the two staff. If it is a one-off bequest, it ought to cover those costs for the next five years but, unless the Council can generate sufficient income to become fully self-funding, it may need another investment in 2015 or thereabouts.

This new partnership has the potential to secure a significant improvement in the services provided by the World Council, with mutual spin-off benefits for the Council and the CGS through the synergy created. The energy and dynamism of the CGS team is self-evident and I wish them every success. I hope the relationship will be a long and fruitful one for both parties.

And, assuming things go well, I imagine Dr Roberts will be a shoe-in for the World Council Presidency next time round!

Postcript

In writing this I have been acutely aware that some of my readers are directly involved in the organisations involved. I have striven to be scrupulously fair and objective in my treatment but, if anyone feels I have done them an injustice, I am only too ready to admit any evidence they wish to supply and to consider their point of view as equally valid to my own.

GP

November 2011

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