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Top Ten 2011: IB vs. AP at Pierson

Posted on 28 December 2011

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After a relatively tumultuous back-and-forth between parents, administrators and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education, the board voted on Wednesday, November 2, to approve a resolution that would allow the school district to implement the International Baccalaureate (IB) program for the 2012-2013 school year. (Board member Theresa Samot was absent.)

Though Pierson High School is still waiting to hear from the IB board as to whether it will officially be accepted, the board’s decision is still significant.

“This has been five years in the making,” said board member Chris Tice after the vote. “There has been extensive research done on it,” she continued, and for those still unsure about what IB is or how it will affect their child, Tice added, “I urge you to ask questions and to learn about it.”

Before submitting her “yes” vote, board member Sandi Kruel made sure to address the issue of this year’s tenth grade students, which she said has been a source of contention among those for and against the program. She asked one more time for Nichols to clarify what options would be available for those tenth grade students who qualify for honors classes but are not yet ready to delve into IB.

“I just need to go on record as saying that this is a big concern for those parents,” she said.

Much of the concern with the program centers on this year’s tenth-grade class, a point parent Helen Atkinson-Barnes brought up to the Sag Harbor School Board at a meeting last May.

“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.”

At a board meeting last February, parent Laura Matthers, who has two daughters in the sophomore class, worried that students coming up through the elementary and middle school programs won’t be prepared for IB.

“I don’t want to be fatalistic, but it seems like a tremendous amount of work to get through a diploma program,” she said.

To receive an IB diploma, students will need to take a total of six courses from six different subject groups, write an extended essay, complete “creativity, action, service” (CAS) hours and take an additional course called “theory of knowledge” (TOK).

Many parents wondered why the school would consider spending money on a program like IB — which comes with an annual price tag of $10,200 just to be part of the program — when it has already invested time developing an Advanced Placement (AP) program.

While members of the administration don’t necessarily see IB as a replacement for AP classes, they do say this move would address perceived shortfalls with instruction that includes some AP classes, which test students’ knowledge of a wide range of facts without going into deeper modes of thinking and analysis.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols reiterated that AP classes would be eliminated to three offerings by 2015, but emphasized that they would be phased out gradually, meaning next year’s tenth graders would still be able to take a course load with up to seven AP classes by the time they graduate.

School Superintendent John Gratto said he felt “a lot of apprehension in the air” at a November meeting for parents on IB.

“I do commend Jeff [Nichols] for the work that he’s done [in researching IB], and I would say that indeed the students will be prepared [for IB],” Gratto said. “But, I do agree with Sandi [Kruel]’s comments, too. We need to make sure we educate people well enough to take away that apprehension.”

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