Margaret O. Bynum was instrumental in developing the first programs for gifted children in Georgia and served as the first director of the Governor’s Honors Program.
Born in Blountsville, Alabama, Margaret was educated at Sneed Jr. College and Alabama College (Montevallo University). After earning a B.A. in Elementary Education, she taught grades three through six for nine years. Eager for a new challenge, in 1956 she enrolled for graduate study at Syracuse University in New York.
Study at Syracuse University was a life-changing experience. Margaret became interested in special education, realizing that children with special needs also included gifted students. With the guidance of Dr. Louis A. Fliegler, Margaret designed her own graduate program with an emphasis on the gifted.
Earning a Masters in Special Education in 1958, Margaret was recommended by Dr. Fliegler and other university faculty for a position at the State Department of Education in Georgia. With their strong endorsements, the Coordinator of Services for Exceptional Children at the Department of Education of Georgia, Dr. Mamie Jo Jones, offered Margaret—sight unseen—the newly created position of Consultant in Gifted Education.
In February of 1958, just a few months before Margaret assumed her position with the State Department of Education, the Georgia House of Representatives passed Resolution 246, mandating a study to meet the needs of Georgia’s gifted children. State School Superintendent Claude Purcell identified the gifted as 10 percent of the school population who are “of exceptional creative ability in any one or more of a number of areas of achievement.”
In her new role, Margaret assumed the task of building a program that would meet the needs of Georgia’s gifted children in all state school systems. She conducted surveys and began to advocate for financial support, teacher training and curriculum development.
By October 1961, the Georgia Plan for the Education of Gifted Children was created, helping to foster positive attitudes in educators and legislators in support of Margaret’s work. Margaret’s efforts lead to the implementation of gifted education courses at the University of Georgia, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Valdosta State, West Georgia, and Georgia College at Milledgeville.
In 1964 the Minimum Foundation Program of Education Act established the Governor’s Honor Program (GHP). Margaret initiated, implemented and developed the program. That same summer, GHP held their first meeting on the campus of Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, bringing together several hundred gifted students. Since then, the GHP has served more than 25,000 Georgia students, recognizing and nurturing the talents of some of the state’s brightest students.
As Margaret gained experience, she continued to reach out for new ideas and direction. As a result of efforts that she and her colleagues were making in education, Georgia was making progress—so much so that by the 1970s Georgia was noted by national organizations and agencies such as the U.S. Office of Education and the Council for Exceptional Children as “one of the top five states in the country with regard to its efforts in the area of the gifted.”
Margaret died in March 1982, but the impact of her work continued to resonate. In 1994, the Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill acknowledging “Multiple Criteria for eligibility of gifted.” As a result, creativity and motivation were added as criteria for identifying gifted children, in addition to I.Q. and achievement scores.
For her profound effect on education in Georgia, Margaret is one of 55 persons listed in “Profiles of Influence in Gifted Education,” a NAGC 50th Anniversary publication honoring those who significantly shaped gifted education in America.
Taped interviews with state officials. Georgia Government Documentation Project, Special Collections. Georgia State University, Atlanta.
The New Georgia Encyclopedia: www.georgiaencyclopedia.org