At board meetings and public appearances, Superintendent Jerry D. Weast speaks often about closing the achievement gap, but a recent report on the system's gifted and talented program demonstrates that the school system still has a ways to go if it hopes to ensure that all students have access to the kind of higher-level courses that are important to their success in school.

The issue of minority representation in gifted and talented, or GT, programs surfaced earlier this year when a group of black parents began asking why so few black and Hispanic students were identified as gifted and talented. Members of African American Parents of Montgomery County said school officials needed to rethink their identification process.

Last year, the parents group joined with several other community groups, including the NAACP Parents' Council, Progressive Maryland and the Montgomery County Education Forum to form the Equity in Education Coalition.

Each spring, the school system screens all second-graders to determine whether they are gifted and talented. This "global screening" process uses a combination of test scores, teacher feedback, parent recommendations and other factors to identify kids.

This year, about one-third of county second-graders were identified as gifted and talented -- compared with 44.5 percent in 2003-04. The percentages of white, Asian and black students identified as gifted and talented increased this year -- but black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind their white and Asian peers in the selection.

While 55.2 percent of those selected were white students and 21.3 percent were Asian, 12.3 percent of the students identified as gifted and talented were black, even though they made up 22.2 percent of the students who were tested. By contrast, whites represented 40.5 percent of those screened, Asians 15.9 percent.

The percentage of Hispanic students among those selected for GT services decreased to 10.6 percent from 2003-04, when 13.9 percent of those selected were Hispanic. By contrast, Hispanic students made up 21.1 percent of those screened.

Carla Lambert of the African American Parents group was among those who gathered at a press conference before the board's Monday night meeting to urge the school system to do away with the global screening process, which she said is it is unfair to students.

George Vlasits, a U.S. history teacher at Montgomery Blair High School, also had a few things to say.

"The purpose is to challenge these kids to move to a higher level,'' he said. Labeling some as GT students and not others is harmful, he added.

Puckering Up to a Pig

Many people have done many things to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, but few would have done what Lance Dempsey did.

Dempsey, principal at Shady Grove Middle School, kissed a pig. That's right, folks -- a pig named Peter -- smack dab on the snout, as part of a schoolwide fundraiser. The fundraiser and a student dance netted more than $2,400 for hurricane relief. The smooch was part of a Kiss the Pig campaign sponsored by Shady Grove's student government association.

"We had a great time,'' said Dempsey, who has taken her share of ribbing from colleagues for the stunt. "Our kids do some awesome things."

Family Life Panel Named

The competition was fierce, but in the end 14 people have been selected to serve on the Citizens Advisory Committee on Family Life and Human Development. That's longhand for the folks who will be consulting with educators in Maryland's largest school system on what students will learn about sex.

The school board named 14 people to the 15-member committee. One seat, reserved for a member of Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum, is vacant because of a dispute between the board and the curriculum advocacy group over who has final say on the nominee.

The 14 members were chosen from more than 180 county residents who applied.

Some of the members represent organizations: Tracy Fox, Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations; James Kennedy, TeachtheFacts.org; Richelle Meer, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland; Emily Wurtz, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays; Peter Sprigg, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays; and Eric Kay, Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Governments.

Community at-large members are: Carol Plotsky, who will also chair the committee; Subash Duggirala; Matthew Murguia; Victor Olano; Maria Pea-Faustino; Esther Pinder; Elinor Walker; and student Esther Lei.

The committee is expected to review a draft of the proposed curriculum in February.