By Claire Walla
Despite some consternation, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program continues to make headway at Pierson High School.
On Monday, May 23 the Sag Harbor School District Board of Education voted unanimously to fund the next two payments (each $9,500) in the ongoing IB application process.
Though these payments are non-refundable, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said the district will not be locked into the program until the entire application is due on October 1, 2011. At that point — and should Pierson be accepted as an IB school — the district would pay $10,000 on an annual basis to be a part of the IB program.
The first payment, which was already part of the school board’s regularly scheduled agenda, will result in IB assigning a consultant to the district. According to Nichols, this consultant will guide the school through the rest of the IB authorization process, helping to answer questions such as, for example, what ninth and tenth graders can do to prepare for the diploma program at the junior and senior levels.
The second payment did not need to be approved until sometime before August 31; however, to streamline the process, board member Ed Drohan suggested the board consider passing a walk-on resolution to approve the second payment right then and there.
With both resolutions passed, the board has thus far approved IB expenditures totaling $23,000.
Though some worry about the cost of the program over time — especially in light of the governor’s two-percent property tax cap (which was approved earlier this week in the legislature) — some board members argue that the projected annual costs associated with running the program are marginal.
Based on a projected initial enrollment number of 40, Nichols predicts the program will cost the district about $56,210, a cost that is expected to rise to over $100,000 after two years with the addition of an IB Coordinator, budgeted in at $60,000.
“This cost is minuscule compared to our budget,” said board member Chris Tice. The cost of the IB program in its most expensive year would be about .0003 percent of the district’s $33 million budget.
Much of the concern for parents, at this point, centers on this year’s ninth graders, a point parent Helen Atkinson-Barnes brought up to the board at the start of the meeting.
“I’m concerned about the fast track of IB,” she said. “If we don’t have teachers prepared, 2014 might not be the best year to start IB, since many of those parents [of this year's ninth graders] are not supportive of the program. I would hate to see the program start and fail.”
Nichols said he had met with Atkinson-Barnes earlier in the week to discuss the issue.
“I was very thankful Helen came and had a discussion with me,” he said. “She articulated that a lot of the concerns [parents have].”
One such issue for Laura Matthers, who has twin daughters in ninth grade, is whether or not all students will be ushered into an IB track, even if they do not plan to be IB Diploma students.
But both principal Nichols and district superintendent Dr. John Gratto assured the crowd that all students will have the option to follow the Regents’ track the same way students not taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses do now.
Matthers also wondered whether students will be locked into classes. Former Pierson student, and last year’s valedictorian, Amanda Holder, brought this issue up at the beginning of the meeting, saying she believes AP coursework affords students the flexibility to pursue more activities outside the classroom, and gives students the freedom to be more selective with their classes.
As IB Diploma candidates, students will be expected to take six classes over the course of two years, in addition to the program’s capstone class: Theory of Knowledge (TOK). In order to prepare for such a specific course load, Nichols said students will begin to map-out their classes at the end of their sophomore year.
Nichols said that there would be some flexibility moving forward, but for the most part Diploma students’ schedules will be set at the end of tenth grade.
And while the number of AP classes is projected to go down to four or five after IB has been in place for three years, Dr. Gratto pointed out that this is based on Nichols’ prediction that more students would choose IB over AP.
Parent Tom Gleeson asked what would happen in the even that very few students actually sign-up for an IB class.
Nichols said that he didn’t expect this to be the case. Because IB will begin to take precedence over AP coursework over time, he said he sees the number of students taking IB classes to be comparable to the number of students now taking AP classes.
“I don’t’ think that will happen with IB,” Nichols added. “But, in years past, when only two or three students signed up for an AP class, we wouldn’t run it.”
And for those concerned about earning AP credits that can transfer to college, Nichols reiterated that students in IB courses will still be able to take AP exams. Each IB course typically matches up with one in the AP program — for example, History of the Americas (IB) equates to U.S. History (AP).
Speaking to those who worried about the transition from AP to IB, elementary school parent Julie Hatfield said parents had nothing to be concerned over.
“I was that transition,” said Hatfield, who was a student at Rockville Centre the year the high school adopted IB. ”There were no bumps in the road. What are we afraid of, that we’re going to challenge our students? That we’re going to learn more?”
She added that Pierson is actually “smoothing it over” by providing a three-year transition.
In addition, teacher Ruth White-Dunne — who attended IB teacher training in the fall — added that the IB curriculum is flexible, and largely accessible to a wide variety of students.
“It’s open to a lot of levels of students because it’s problem-based, research-based and performance-based,” she said. “The first year will be a learning process for everybody,” continued White-Dunne, a big proponent of the IB program. “But if that’s how we want to teach, then please let us do it.”