IB Program Elicits Support, Questions

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By Claire Walla

The Sag Harbor School Board’s ongoing discussion of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program drew voices from both sides of the aisle at the school board meeting Monday, May 9.

During a scheduled update on the program, school district superintendent Dr. John Gratto brought the board and present company up to speed on the district’s progress. Thus far, only the first phase in a three-part application process has been completed.  And according to Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols, phase two, which includes a 35-page application and a price tag of $9,500, will not have to be approved by the board until sometime this summer.

To begin, Dr. Gratto appealed to board member Ed Drohan’s request for more information on why the program failed to take hold in neighboring school districts.

Both he and Nichols contacted 11 Long Island schools that either currently foster an IB curriculum, or had at one point entertained the idea of implementing one, noting that only three (North Babylon, Hicksvile and Great Neck) abandoned IB, and one (Garden City) chose not to follow through with implementation.

While three schools apparently cited tightening budgets as reason to ditch the program, Great Neck was reportedly apprehensive of external assessments and those at Garden City said the Advanced Placement (AP) program had more support from the community at large.

This argument has been made here in Sag Harbor, where a contingent of Pierson parents worry that the IB program would add costs to the district and threaten the viability of the school’s current AP track.

According to Nichols, the IB program (which would be implemented in 2013 at the earliest) would cut back on the number of AP offerings, limiting the 12-course selection to just three: AP Calculus, AP World History and AP Physics.

“It would not immediately go down to three, there would be a transition year,” he explained.  “But over time, the school would not be able to accommodate both AP and IB.”

Parent Tom Gleeson noted that the AP program is currently in the midst of modifying its instruction and examination practices.  And because the program is already in place, he wondered whether the school might benefit from a revamped AP curriculum, rather than pay for an entirely new product.

“We haven’t had anybody come and do a presentation on AP,” he said.  “In all fairness, we should evaluate this as well.”

Parent Laura Matthers added that, for her, cost is a factor.

“The rigor and the stress of doing a program like this can’t be overstated,” she said.  “You don’t want a failure rate — that’s a lot of money.”

According to Dr. Gratto, the fees for administrating IB on an annual basis will come from four main sources: annual membership, the cost of administering assessments and exams, teachers’ professional development and teachers’ stipends for administering exams and mentoring the extended essay process.  Annual fees are expected to hover around $50,000 for the first three years of the program (2013-2015).  But this cost is currently projected to rise to $121,868 five years down the road, when the school plans to add an IB coordinator position for $60,000.

“You could say that’s a lot of money, and it is,” Dr. Gratto added.  “But those students would go on to do great things.”

In fact, four parents at last Monday’s meeting were on the agenda to say just that.

“There’s no teaching to a test.  There’s teaching and learning for learning’s sake,” said parent Julie Hatfield who participated in the IB program when it was first implemented at Rockville Centre in the 80s.  “Students are taught to ask questions, then support [what they’ve learned] in a paper.”

Hatfield went on to explain that because she participated in the program in its inaugural years, the program had not been entrenched long enough for Hatfield to be able to take enough courses to qualify for an IB diploma.  Instead, she sat for Advanced Placement (AP) exams, and said she “was more than prepared for them.”

(Principal Nichols has said that any student taking IB coursework would be adequately prepared for an AP exam and would be given the opportunity to take them.)

Parent Faith Diskin also spoke in favor of the program, alerting the board to the fact that she managed to get 385 people to sign a petition urging the board to adopt IB.

Board member Ed Drohan — who spoke briefly at the last board meeting of the program’s benefits before voicing some concerns with the board’s exploration process — addressed the crowd regarding these issues once more.

“The only thing that I still have a reservation about is this being treated right,” he said.  “Is it being analyzed in a deep way that the community can respect?

For board member Dan Hartnett, who had attended IB training as an employee of the East Hampton School District, the choice is clear — though the debate itself is also worthwhile.

“I walked away from [IB training] thinking, why wouldn’t a district like this just even consider IB?” he asked, rhetorically.

“I personally hope we do,” Hartnett confessed, “because IB is not just a diploma or a certificate program, it’s a new vibrant way to teach and deliver instruction.  Information comes to us in so many different ways.  Perhaps memorization is just a tool.  From my perspective, just this conversation alone is going to make us a better school.”

The school board has not formally come to any decisions on the program, nor has it mapped out a time-frame in which to vote on a resolution approving the next phase in the application process (other than the fact that it must come before July 2011).

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