Forum shows questions on IB still linger

Grand Canyon school officials spent an hour last week responding to just a few of more than 25 questions from the community regarding plans to implement the International Baccalaureate Program.

School Superintendent Sheila Breen, Principal Bob Kelso and School Testing Coordinator Becky Crumbo accepted an invitation by the PTA to address questions raised at the October PTA meeting.

School Board members Bess Foster, Clarinda Vail and Emmons Berry also attended the forum, which was held on Tuesday, Nov. 15, following the PTA's November meeting.

Albright Training Center Superintendent Costa Dillon who moderated, said the forum would run for only 60 minutes, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

"If we're not done by 7:30, we have to continue it another time," he said.

School officials were able to get to just a handful of questions from the more than 25 that were submitted by attendees at the October PTA meeting. Question topics included special education and English Language Learning students, the cost of IB, administration support and curriculum.

The first, and most basic, question posed, was "What is IB?"

"IB in an umbrella and a philosophy encompassing all people and cultures," said Breen. "It has an international focus on our students being part of the global community."

Along with its philosophy, she said the administration selected the program because it accomplishes the requirement to develop an aligned curriculum in accordance with state standards.

"We are doing this under the IB umbrella," said Breen. "The reason I supported it is that it helps keep tabs on what we're doing. Some teachers have been through Literacy First and are using it in classrooms, but most teachers are not trained and not using it. We need to train people systematically and everyone needs to be on board."

"This provides a framework," added Kelso. "State standards have forced us to do these kinds of things anyway. Teachers are getting together and figuring out what's going to be taught and not taught and how we're going to measure progress. We've taken Open Court reading and given it an IB overlay and we're doing it with Harcourt Math now."

Crumbo described that program, which covers grades six-10, as "a compilation of best or effective practices in education."

She said that while the district maintains its say in what is taught, IB does mandate some things, for example that students receive a certain amount of PE and art instruction.

She added that IB is a "user-friendly" mechanism to help educators analyze "enacted curriculum" ­ what is actually being taught ­ with the ideal course of study.

"We can continually through the years tweak it until it gets better," she said. "We are beginning to dovetail MYP standards into it."

Parent Laura Jones asked if that framework is in place yet.

"We're early in the process, maybe at 25 percent of the work," said Kelso.

He explained that teachers are still developing the necessary structure, breaking down what will be taught in what grade and developing lesson plans. Training is also continuing in other areas, such as for Harcourt Math.

Kelso said that there was no conflict between Arizona state standards and PYP.

"It's not a conflict and not an issue," he said. "State standards trump IB standards."

"IB is not the only way teachers are receiving staff development," he said. "A lot of the work that we've done, about 90 percent, has not been IB related. We've put a lot of the money into curriculum development and training. What we're doing for grades six-12, that needed to happen."

Crumbo said that efforts have been focused more on the Primary Years program, for grades K-5, than the MYP.

"Implementation of MYP hasn't begun yet," she said. "For us to become an MYP school, we have to implement it one year at a time, starting this year with the sixth grade."

Breen explained how the application process works.

"The only people who can make us an IB school is IB," she said. "We have to meet certain criteria.

Application A is the first step. To submit Application B, the school must spend at least a year implementing steps required by IB.

"You can go through the same process at the end of one year or take longer if you feel you need to," she said. "We extended the deadline for application B to this year. We felt we needed to slow it down."

See-sawing test scores played a part in the administration's decision to pursue IB.

"We had a conversation with the board where test scores in math were going downhill," she said. "The scores were high and kind of slipped. My read is that as the focus shifted from math to reading, the emphasis shifted and the scale started to tip."

She said that last November, all of the teachers went to an introduction to IB in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"We asked the teachers if they wanted to do it independently or tie into IB," Breen said. "Twenty-seven out of 31 people voted for it. There was very strong feedback that we're not ready to do a diploma program so we backed off."

Breen said that IB was approved by the School Board "as what we're going to use."

"Communities don't vote on curriculum anyway," Breen said. "The board did vote that I submit an application A for both PYP and MYP."

"We are an IB school," she said. "Teachers signed a contract to do that. If you don't want to do that, this isn't the place you ought to be. This is what is expected and it's clear to everyone up front. Every teacher in the school signed that contract."

"We don't have time or energy to drag teachers along who don't want to do this," Breen said. "We want teachers who love to be here, love the process and want to be an active part of developing a good curriculum."

"When that vote was taken, when we voted yes on that, we said that it would be re-addressed and re-discussed," said Foster. "We were going to explore IB and hear what the teachers said and continue to say every year. You said that we're an IB school, but my recollection is that we voted to explore IB then to re-evaluate and look at it in a few years."

In response to questions about funding, Breen said that the school has the money to pursue the program.

Revenue has come from a voter-approved override for additional property taxes that expires in five years, Title 1 money and from the maintenance and operating budget.

"The school budget is right around $3 million, but we spend less than $20-30,000 on training," she said. "Most of the money goes to pay teachers and support staff salaries and benefits. After that we set priorities. The school district has the money for IB."

It will cost the district an additional $5,000 a year for membership in IBO.

Responding to a question on how special education meshes with IB, Breen said. "This framework incorporates everybody. PYP and MYP are for all kids. There isn't a kid who needs to be pulled out of those programs, because all it's doing is focusing on good instruction."

Breen dismissed concerns that the subject matter might be too difficult for students. including special ed and English Language Learners.

"Our kids will learn what our teachers teach them. We expect them to do a good job at that," she said. "They are going to get pushed. If that's the worst criticism I get a superintendent, then I'm doing OK."

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