IB Middle Years Programme Shelved Again for Pierson Middle-High School

Ruth White-Dunne, an IB history teacher, left, and Chase Mallia, an IB math teacher, right, spoke about the Middle Years Programme on Monday. Christine Sampson photo
Ruth White-Dunne, an IB history teacher, left, and Chase Mallia, an IB math teacher, right, spoke about the Middle Years Programme on Monday. Christine Sampson photo

By Christine Sampson

At the request of the Sag Harbor School Board, Pierson Middle-High School administrators on Monday revived the conversation around the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme — then recommended, again, against the full implementation of the program for grades six through 10.

The conversation recalled a June 5 discussion, when the “cons” of full implementation appeared to outweigh the “pros,” and the almost four-year effort to become a Middle Years Programme (MYP) school was shelved.

This time around, though, current International Baccalaureate (IB) teachers got involved. They shared their experiences and encouraged the board to not pursue fully introducing the MYP.

“The cost of the MYP seems to far outweigh the additional value,” said Chase Mallia, a math teacher, who said he polled many of his colleagues over the past week. “The overwhelming sentiment is that officially adopting the MYP is in many ways an unnecessary formality. It might overburden a small district like our own.”

He later said, “The administrative burden of what we encountered when we were doing the MYP training would really detract from the teaching. …The teachers feel strongly that with more shared planning time, we can accomplish a lot of the goals and objectives without the costs.”

Ruth White-Dunne, who teaches history, said she was left “dumbstruck as to where the program was” after sitting through several MYP training sessions.

“We had hours and hours of fiddling around with wordplay and jargon,” she said. “When I say we have to get our students reading and writing critically so they can think critically, our time is best spent planning with our peers. … It’s a different type of learning experience, but none of that came from sitting with MYP trainers sitting with wordplay and jargon. If we’re going to put our money into better programs, it’s to send us to IB Diploma Program training and have that trickle down into the middle school years.”

Pierson Middle School assistant principal Brittany Carriero reiterated Monday that the teachers have already adopted many of the MYP principles into their classrooms. Projects combining multiple academic subjects take place in most of the grades, she said, and teachers are introducing concepts from “Approaches to Learning” and “Theory of Knowledge,” which are courses specific to the MYP and IB Diploma Program, respectively.

School board members said they eventually came to understand, via this second MYP presentation, that MYP is a framework of an educational model, rather than an actual advanced curriculum for students in grades six through 10.

When it came time for school board members to weigh in, Alex Kriegsman — who was elected two weeks prior to the June MYP presentation — said he would accept the administrators’ position only if they bring to the school board suggestions for how to increase rigor for students in grades six through 10.

In response to Mr. Kriegsman’s questions, Pierson principal Jeff Nichols acknowledged there are few options for students in those grades to receive advanced instruction. Teachers may “differentiate” lessons, which means they provide advanced options inside regular classes for students who excel, but that can be difficult for teachers, Mr. Nichols said. Outside of science and math options for eighth graders and English and history options for tenth graders, he said, no others exist.

“Philosophically there is a little bit of a debate at which point you start to move beyond enrichment in the class into tracking by sections,” he said. “The debate is when you start to accelerate certain kids, you’ve mapped out their future to some extent. I’m not a big proponent of tracking kids early on. Eighth grade is about as early as I’d go.

Mr. Kriegsman insisted there is a population of bright, motivated students in those grades whose needs are not being met. As a result, he said, their families are exploring boarding school or other options that would see them leave Pierson.

“I think that’s why folks in this community wanted the MYP,” he said.

Mr. Nichols then said, “I think Alex makes a good point and it’s a very reasonable ask.”

Board president Diana Kolhoff said she agreed with the administration “to not formally go to MYP but to map out a road map of how we can milk it as much as we can. “The quality in which we teach is so much more important than the speed at which we teach,” she said.

Board member Chris Tice said she felt there was a misunderstanding that had been cleared up during the presentation. “I am concerned, though, that without having something institutionalized, we’re not going to consistently propagate this throughout all five years, hold ourselves to task and do this successfully,” she said. “The only way we’ll get the support and confidence of the parent population is to say we don’t need [the MYP] to do great work in those five grades, and to do that we’ll need to be really structured.”