Middle School IB Program Questioned
The school has been billing itself to students, parents and teachers as an IB school, even though it has not received official approval.
That has drawn some complaints from parents, according to board members. The board questioned Superintendent Susan Purser and Executive Director for Curriculum Bever-lee Beale at a special called meeting about the situation.
Board members said the main concern is that students who have thought they were in the IB program get the credit they deserve. According to Purser, they will.
The application process is structured in such a way that it requires the school essentially to implement the program prior to final approval.
Before it could ask questions, the board sat through a PowerPoint presentation about the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (grades six through 10).
There are many facets to the program, but essentially it is a challenging course load for high-level students that encourages self-evaluation along with civic responsibility.
Beale said the mission is to teach students how to "help create a better world."
Once students complete the five-year "Middle Years Programme" they are eligible for an International Baccalaur-ate Organization (IBO) Certificate of Achievement. It's not a diploma but does signify completion of the course.
The process of becoming an IB school begins when the school first contacts IBO, which is a nonprofit organization in Geneva, Switzerland. The school then is classified as a "prospective school."
Started With High Schools
According to Jennifer Garner, the only current board member who was on the board when IB talks began several years ago after Pat Russo became superintendent, the board asked Russo to find out if the three high schools would be interested in the IB program.
Pinecrest High School was the only one of the three to express an interest. The school system then asked if any of the middle schools would be interested. Southern Middle is the only one that said it would. That was in 2000.
The middle school began studying IB, had some orientation training and developed a five-year plan for implementation (IBO requires only a three-year plan).
"I was shocked a couple of years ago when I was told people thought they were participating in a full-fledged program," Garner said. "I never once thought [the board] authorized money for this."
Six years later, on May 9, the school applied for candidate status. In between, the school had been billing itself as an IB school.
Purser insists that sixth-graders who thought they were entering the program in the 2004-'05 school year as well as the subsequent class will receive credit when completing the five-year program.
Once the school becomes a "candidate school," it has to implement the program for a full year. More teachers undergo training, and an IBO consultant visits.
Under the timeline Beale gave the board, Southern Middle doesn't have to wait a full year from May 9 because it has instituted the program for more than a year already.
After that year, the school becomes an "applicant school." During that very short period, an IBO delegation visits the school. Beale said that visit should happen in the fall.
Assuming things move forward as planned, the school will apply for final approval June 1, 2007.
The final decision is made by the director general in Switzerland.
"In recent weeks we've had some questions, appropriately so," Purser said. "There have been misunderstandings."
Purser said she met with a group of parents, and that the first thing she did was apologize.
Board Vice Chairwoman Kathy Farren wanted to know if there was already a Middle Years program at Pinecrest for grades nine and 10.
Beale said that that would happen when students in the program at Southern Middle move on to Pinecrest.
Board member Bruce Cunningham wanted some assurances in writing that the students already in the IB program will get credit upon completion.
Purser said that she has assurances from IBO that they would, but that it is not in writing.
"It should be a high priority," Cunningham said. "We need to make sure the students that are going through this program receive recognition."
Further complicating the matter was an incorrect date on the application that made it look like the school would first become a candidate in 2007-'08.
Farren said she wasn't sure this process was in the best interests of the school system. It might not be the best use of money, she said. The program costs about $40,000.
"We're pouring so much money into some program that includes a small amount of kids," she said. "We have so many kids to educate."
Chairman Charles Lambert said he liked the program, but he wished it included more students.
"We worry so much about what we are doing to bring up the bottom," Purser said, "some times we're not doing as much for our most capable."
Farren also said students at Pinecrest told her that they use the IB program only to jump other students in class rank.
Garner disagreed. She said most of the students she spoke with said it was a valuable program.
Board members said they wanted assurances that the students receive credit and that some apologies are made.
"One of the first things I did when I met with the parents, was apologize," said Purser, who actually inherited this program. "I don't think it was anybody's intention to mislead anyone. But I'll assume that responsibility to apologize for the system."
Matthew Moriarty can be reached at 693-2479 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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