Gifted students from Russell public schools will be able to learn in classes and projects alongside more of their peers through a Hays-based special education cooperative.

The Hays USD 489 school board, as the sponsoring district of the West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative, approved the contract with Russell USD 407 at its Monday night meeting. The vote was 5-0, with board members Paul Adams and Mandy Fox absent.

Members of the cooperative are Ellis USD 388, La Crosse USD 395 and Victoria USD 432. Last year, 77 students from the four districts received gifted services, according to Chris Hipp, director of the co-op. The co-op provides gifted education through its Special Projects and Resources for Kids program, or SPARK.

USD 407 is looking to add nine of its students to the program in 2019-20, said Angela Rinehart, special education director for USD 407.

Until now, the Russell district used such technology as video chats to provide gifted programs for its students. Partnering with the co-op will provide more opportunities for the students, especially in elementary grades, Rinehart said.

Secondary students have more opportunity to take college courses and different education tracks with harder classes, she said.

“For the elementary kids, we’re really excited to be a part of the SPARK program and for them to have peers to work on projects together and the peer interaction,” she said. “One of the things with gifted kids is they think differently and sometimes they have trouble relating to peers because of their intellect. So we're giving our kids an opportunity to participate and do the projects and activities and engage with other students of their intelligence level."

Under the contract, Russell elementary students will travel to Hays for SPARK classes one day a week.

Middle school students will attend project-based learning classes at Hays Middle School for a half-day every other week. A cooperative gifted services provider will make a visit to the Russell school once a month.

Russell High School students in the gifted program will participate in projects via video chat once a week and two field trips a year. A consultation visit will be made at RHS once a month.

Hipp told the USD 489 school board at its July 1 meeting the addition of the Russell students won’t cost the cooperative much and will actually provide another source of revenue.

USD 407 will pay the cooperative 0.25 of base state aid per pupil for each student and reimburse the cooperative 20 percent of staff travel expenses.

“We’re charging them 20 percent of the cost. We get state aid on the first 80 percent” on mileage, Hipp said at the July 1 meeting.

The cooperative won’t have to add any staff to accommodate the Russell students, Hipp said.

“It doesn’t add expense. It helps us help a neighbor and it reduces our cost per student a little bit,” he said.