Tag Archive | "ib"

The Eight Guinea Pigs of Sag Harbor’s IB Program are Ready to Graduate

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


IB Diploma Candidates Max Snow and Bryant Yunker play a scientific song for fellow soon-to-be graduates Chance Sevigny, Kyle Sturmann, Garrett Potter, Tiger Britt and Carli Fischer at the IB recognition ceremony in the Pierson Middle-High School library Thursday, May 29 (Drew Harvey is there but not pictured).

IB Diploma Candidates Max Snow and Bryant Yunker play a scientific song for fellow soon-to-be graduates Chance Sevigny, Kyle Sturmann, Garrett Potter, Tiger Britt and Carli Fischer at the IB recognition ceremony in the Pierson Middle-High School library Thursday, May 29 (Drew Harvey is there but not pictured). Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck 

Adequate sleep, a social life and good grades: a diploma candidate in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program must choose two.

At a recognition ceremony for the first group of Pierson High School IB diploma candidates, eight seniors who were the guinea pigs when the school started IB in September 2012, Vice Principal Gary Kalish joked that students could only choose two of the three—and, perhaps surprisingly, the students laughed.

“Two years ago,” said Garrett Potter, a senior and IB diploma candidate, “we, Cohort 1, made the conscious decision to take on the challenge of the IB diploma program head on. And I can honestly say, two years later, I have not only improved as a student through the program but as a person.”

The eight inaugural students, Tiger Britt, Carli Fischer, Drew Harvey, Garrett Potter, Chance Sevigny, Max Snow, Kyle Sturmann and Bryant Yunker, were recognized in a ceremony before teachers, parents and administrators last Thursday, May 29, in the Pierson library.

As the district’s IB coordinator, Mr. Kalish led the initiative to introduce the international curriculum to Sag Harbor. A rigorous college preparatory program that seeks to educate the whole student, emphasizing critical thinking, creativity, responsibility and cultural understanding, IB is currently offered to Pierson students in grades 11 and 12.

Following recommendations made to the board of education by Mr. Kalish and Principal Jeff Nichols in March, the district is in the process of extending the IB curriculum to include a Middle Years Program (MYP) that would make it available for students in grades six through 10.

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. To qualify for the diploma, the eight members of the group had to complete six IB classes, as well as the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, Extended Essay Project, and Creativity, Action and Service (CAS) activities.

In addition, the students completed internal and external assessments demonstrating understanding of different subject areas, including math and science portfolios, research investigations and research papers and oral commentaries, which included some 20 minutes of speaking in another language, “quite an impressive feat,” according to Mr. Kalish.

“What really makes the IB program unique, aside from those six courses and their assessments, is what the IB weighs as equally important in terms of their preparation for life after high school,” said Mr. Kalish.

Students are pushed to be critical thinkers, develop natural curiosity, act with integrity and honesty and show empathy, compassion and respect for others, Mr. Kalish said.

“I’m not going to sit here and say it was easy,” Garrett said, adding nothing worth accomplishing is ever easy.

“What I would say to Cohort 2,” he said, addressing the group of junior students in their first year of IB seated in the audience, “is I know things may seem tough at times, [but] that feeling of accomplishment when it’s all over—it’s all worth it.”

Garrett apologized to the graduating group’s parents for “stressing you guys out sometimes,” and thanked the administration “for going through this process with us and doing it together.”

“We know it was equally as hard for you, but we believe it was a mutualistic relationship, in that we all benefited from it greatly,” he added. “I believe the program has many more good years in the school.”

Theory of Knowledge, an essential component of IB, is a two-semester course that challenges students to question the bases of knowledge in the disciplines they study and to develop the ability to analyze evidence and express it in a rational argument.

“The best student does not need to wear their grades on their sleeves to demonstrate their stature,” said TOK teacher Sean Kelly. “Fearlessness, toughness, dedication and, most important of all, integrity…When you consider the expectation and standards inherent in the IB program, you can see how it can reveal the best in students.”

Student Drew Harvey said the biggest switch in adapting to the IB program was on the shoulders of the teachers.

“They had to change their whole curriculum and go outside what they’ve been teaching for the past 10 to 20 years,” Drew said.

“Mr. Kelly taught us to think outside the box and create our own opinions,” he said, adding the students’ were primarily pushed through writing.

History of the Americas teacher Ruth White-Dunne, he said, “did a really fine job of teaching history in a way we never thought was possible [and] showed us historical perspective by showing us all the causes and effects of global issues for all sides and parties.”

“That really opened our eyes to another way of thinking that was echoed through Mr. Kelly in his class,” added Drew.

Another key component of the IB curriculum is the Creativity, Action, Service requirement. Students must obtain 50 hours of each of the three components. The means to do so vary widely; creativity hours can be earned through playing an instrument or making art, action through moving your body via horseback riding or bushwhacking, and service through helping the community.

Seniors Carli Fischer and Kyle Sturmann told the room about their experience initiating recycling in the elementary and middle schools.

“These kids got pretty jacked up,” Kyle said of the younger recyclers. “I’m not gonna lie, they were into it.”

Sag Harbor School District Administrators Make Recommendations on Pre-K, IB Expansion

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


By Tessa Raebeck

In back-to-back workshops before parents, teachers and members of the Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) Monday night, administrators voiced their recommendations on how to progress with the potential expansion of the district’s Pre-Kindergarten and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Pre-K

Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and vice principal Donna Denon updated the board on the pre-K program, currently in its third year, and discussed the possibility of extending the program to a full day of five and a half hours.

Through SCOPE, a not-for-profit organization chartered by the New York State Board of Regents to provide services to school districts on Long Island, Sag Harbor currently offers a fully funded two and a half hour pre-K program for any eligible four year old in the district. Ms. Denon noted it is an option for parents that is “very rare.” The district pays SCOPE tuition costs to run its pre-K program.

If that program extends to a longer day (considered to be anything over three hours), there are additional requirements the district would need to meet, including limiting class size to 14 students, providing a bathroom for each classroom, ensuring both a certified teacher and teaching assistant is in each classroom, scheduling a 40-minute recreation period, as well as designated lunch and snack times.

The extension would increase the tuition paid to SCOPE from $2,750 to $3,150 per child for the half day, or $10,150 for the full day, although the numbers are approximate because they dependent on enrollment, Mr. Malone said.

“Each year, we’ve been making sure we have monies to accommodate 60 students, so clearly that would be a significant increase in what we would have to budget for for an extended day program,” Mr. Malone said.

This school year, 2013-2014, the pre-K program has 32 students and a budget of $88,000. The district is using only one classroom, which has its own bathroom, for both the morning and the afternoon sessions. The reduced class size of a full-day program would mandate more classrooms, and thus more teachers and teaching assistants.

“It’s a great model, but it’s a big undertaking,” said Ms. Denon, voicing concern over how they would find empty classrooms that could be designated solely for pre-K. Parents dropping off and picking up students would also “be a bit problematic,” she said, as more pre-K parents would be coming and going at the same time as the parents of older students, rather than in the middle of the day.

With space and logistical concerns, as well as fiscal limitations due to the lack of state aid for pre-K and the state-imposed tax cap on the district budget, the administrators’ suggestion to the board was to keep the program the way it is for now.

“We have a very strong program right now,” said Mr. Malone. “The entire school district and community are behind it and let’s keep that solid.”

Mr. Malone and Ms. Denon had several conversations with George Duffy, the director of SCOPE, on the pros and cons of pursuing an extended day program. His advice, according to Mr. Malone, was, “You don’t want to hinder the greatness of what you have. In other words, you don’t want to sacrifice something good to say you have an extended day. Keep your eye on what’s important.”

 

IB

In its second year of offering an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program for 11th and 12th grade students, Pierson High School is considering extending the curriculum to students in grades six through 10.

The program offers students the option to be diploma candidates, who complete the full IB program for diploma credit, or certificate candidates, who do not receive a diploma but can take individual courses where they have an interest in that subject matter. It has grown steadily each year; in 2012-2013, there were 11 diploma candidates and 47 students enrolled in at least one course. This year, there are 21 diploma candidates and 83 students enrolled in at least one course. Selection is still ongoing for next year, but there are an estimated 31 diploma candidates.

“For the last five years,” said Gary Kalish, Pierson High School vice principal and the IB diploma coordinator, “we’ve been making the kinds of changes and trying to do the kind of development to help students achieve at a higher level.”

The Middle Years Program (MYP), he said, offers curriculum alignment across the grade levels and opens the program to all students, rather than the self-selecting, open enrollment of the upper level program.

After working with IB for the past couple years, “We’ve recognized the rigor and the level of difficulty,” Mr. Kalish said, adding that in the end, “it really is just good teaching and good learning.”

IB is designed to give students a global perspective, with more group discussion, problem solving and abstract thinking than traditional lecture-style classrooms. With an interdisciplinary focus, the MYP has eight subject groups: mathematics, language A (the “mother tongue,” or English for Sag Harbor students), language B, humanities, arts, sciences, physical education and technology. At the end of the five years, MYP students complete personal projects and compile portfolios of all their work. Administrators said the Common Core curriculum, with its similar focus on collaborative planning and interdisciplinary work, could be embedded within the IB framework.

The district can choose to extend the program to just the 9th and 10th grades or to grades six through 10. The administrators’ recommendation to the board, Mr. Nichols said, is to extend the IB program to grades six through 10, “because we see value in what the IB does for our students.”

Districts must apply to be authorized to offer IB, with the candidacy process expected to last about two years. After initial application and candidate fees of around $13,500, there would be an annual school fee of about $8,000. Staff development costing as much as $20,000 is also required, although Pierson has already sent its three administrators, Mr. Nichols, Mr. Kalish and Ms. Brittany Miaritis, along with some seven teachers, to training on MYP.

Pending board approval, the program could be offered for the 2015-2016 school year at the earliest. A resolution to extend the program will be voted on at the board’s March 25 meeting.

 

 

Teaching Budgets Projected to Remain Relatively Flat

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


By Claire Walla

According to both Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols and Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone, the Sag Harbor School District’s anticipated instructional costs will remain relatively flat going into the 2012-2013 school year.

At a budget presentation on Monday, January 23, Nichols and Malone reported projected budgets that will see district totals increase roughly 6.99 percent over this year’s operating budget.

Overall, teaching costs — which include teachers’ salaries, equipment costs, contractual fees and textbook prices — are projected to increase $731,784 next year, bringing the 2012-2013 total to roughly $11,197,784 million, versus this year’s operating budget of $10,465,851.

The district’s business manager Janet Verneuille explained that the only changes in staffing will include the additions of a new sixth-grade teacher and a new English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching assistant, who actually began working in the district last year but wasn’t hired until after last year’s budget was adopted, and therefore hasn’t been factored into the budget.

Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. John Gratto added that the district has seen a decrease of four special education teachers and one nurse, who had been at Stella Maris Regional School until the school closed last spring.

Principal Nichols asserted that there are “not that many significant changes to the budget.”

While equipment costs for all departments are looking at a 2-percent increase (or $4,757) for next year, a decrease in special education by $1,053 and a $12,531 drop in co-curricular activities more than make up for it.

Part of the high school’s extra costs for next year are expected to go to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which will add another $14,500 to the annual budget. The annual fees for the program are $11,000, the program’s software management program (ManageBac) is $1,000 and an additional $2,500 has been allotted for field trips. Nichols explained that part of the program requirements for foreign language classes include field trips to areas where those languages are spoken, so students will most likely attend trips to parts of New York City.

Nichols went onto explain that the school will also spend $30,000 on professional development to allow more teachers to attend IB training workshops. Although, he added that this expense is part the school’s budget each year regardless of whether or not it is used specifically for IB training.

Nichols noted the fact that Pierson High School has not yet garnered approval from the IB board and is not yet officially an IB school; however, he said he expects to know whether or not the IB diploma program will be offered next fall as soon as this spring.

“We have to submit some paperwork to IB this week, then we’ll have a site visit within the next two months,” he explained.

Following in the wake of Nichols’ presentation, Malone said IB is one of the focuses of next year’s elementary school budget as well. Though the school is not on-track to implement the IB Primary Years’ program, Malone said he plans for teachers to attend IB training to learn more about the program and bring that information back to the community. This way, if IB principles are instilled in the elementary school curriculum, he said students will be better prepared for the diploma program once they get to Pierson.

Malone is currently budgeting $44,292 for professional development (roughly a 17 percent increase over this year), of which he said about $10,000 will be dedicated to IB training.

Dr. Gratto confirmed that the district does not intend to implement the IB primary years’ program. Rather, IB training at the elementary school will help primary teachers better train students for the high school curriculum.

“We believe there’s a lot of benefit to attending these workshops,” Malone added.

He also explained that he’s exploring options for a new math series at the elementary school, which takes advantage of new technologies. And although Malone hasn’t settled on a program, he’s set aside roughly $30,000 in next year’s budget for this purpose.

Finally, Verneuille reported that employee benefits are expected to see an 8-percent increase next year, bringing this year’s total benefit costs from $6.8 million to $7.3 million next year.

While Verneuille said she’s still waiting to see the projected rates for teachers’ retirement costs, she said the rates for health and dental insurance are projected to jump by about 10 percent and the rates for employee retirement costs are expected to jump 12.5 percent—“we got whammed on that!” she exclaimed.

A comprehensive budget breakdown is scheduled to be presented before the Board of Education at its next meeting, February 6.

IB Program Approved for 2012-2013 School Year

Tags: , , , , , ,


IB-hexagon

By Claire Walla


In a unanimous vote held on Wednesday, November 2, the Sag Harbor Board of Education unanimously approved 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 or not it will officially be accepted by the IB board — Pierson only recently submitted the final segment of its IB application — for many, the board’s decision is a significant one.

“This has been five years in the making,” said board member Chris Tice, who pointed to the fact that Pierson administrators, led by Principal Jeff Nichols, have spent years learning about the program.

“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, she 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.

Nichols reiterated that Advanced Placement (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, in reference to Kruel’s comments, that he felt “a lot of apprehension in the air” at a recent parent meeting about 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.”

Parent Tom Gleeson, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the IB program, said in an interview that he is still worried the school is investing in a program that is costly, but doesn’t necessarily improve the schools’ curriculums district-wide. (The program would cost about $10,200 annually — the cost of an IB coordinator, which could be up to $60,000, will be absorbed by Principal Nichols and Assistant Principal Gary Kalish for the first few years while the IB program is still relatively small.)

“I’m of the mindset that when you have something that’s going well,” he said in reference to the school’s current AP program, “then you should try to make it better, rather than bring in another program and derail it. We’re just not philosophically on the same page.”

In the midst of last Wednesday’s meetings, Tice said she knew there were still parents who were skeptical of the program.

In an effort to reach out to them, she said, “I would ask you to keep an open mind. This is a program that can only succeed if the participants are willing participants. The intent is good, and I ask that you evaluate it for what it is, not for what you might have heard.”

In other news…

Board members revisited a proposed bond measure that would cost a grand total of $7,220,345 for repairs to both buildings, an updated kitchen, a storage closet in the elementary school gym, updates to two school parking lots, as well as two separate propositions that would give Pierson a synthetic athletic field and provide stadium lighting. The turf is expected to cost up to $1.6 million, while the lighting will total about $675,000.

While the bond will be put to the community for a vote, the board has still to decide what elements of the proposed bond measure to include. School board members will revisit the issue at an upcoming meeting.

Principal Presses for OK on IB Plan

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


By Claire Walla

It’s been nearly five years since the Sag Harbor School District began exploring the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and about a year since the district started pursuing the program in earnest. But the board of education has yet to formally take a stance on IB — a detail Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols hopes will be remedied sooner rather than later.

“I would like the board to formally take a position on IB in the next month,” Nichols declared at a school board meeting last Monday, October 17. More specifically, he continued, “I’d like the board to say that, if this school receives the OK from the IB administration, we will offer IB diploma program courses next fall.”

To date, the district has spent about $23,000 to participate in the IB application process. This money has covered the base application fee and paid for an IB consultant to visit the school — a mandatory part of the application process. The next and final deadline for Pierson High School’s IB application is Tuesday, November 1, when those teachers tentatively slated to teach IB programs next fall will submit sample course outlines to the IB board.

Nichols explained that Pierson administrators plan to meet with the handful of those teachers crafting IB course outlines this week so that the district will be able to submit the final step of its application well before the November 1 deadline.

At this point, support from the board is imperative, Nichols explained, because should the school follow through with plans to introduce IB in the fall of 2012, Pierson administrators will need to reach out to the students who would potentially participate in the IB diploma program next year.

“If we’re successful in bringing the program here, we’ll meet with students in the coming months and start to map out their junior and senior year schedules,” Nichols clarified.

The IB program has been contentious for some in the community who have criticized its cost (roughly $10,200 annual base fee), perceived exclusivity and questionable reputation within the college admissions process as compared to the more standard Advanced Placement (AP) program.

Nichols disputed this claim. While IB credits are not accepted for credit at every university — though he said they are recognized by many schools — he explained that many institutions of higher learning are beginning to discount AP credits, as well.

But Nichols insisted this is beside he point. He has maintained from the get-go that the IB program is, in fact, more rigorous and rewarding than the AP program because it emphasizes critical thinking skills, and it’s more versatile than AP because it encourages a range of learning styles that push students to absorb and communicate information without relying on rote memorization (which is sometimes associated with AP). Furthermore, he looks forward to implementing new learning styles within the classroom that will challenge all teachers to think outside-of-the-box when administering lessons.

Parent Tom Gleason said at the meeting that he worries about introducing a new curriculum while the district currently lacks a K through 12 curriculum coordinator.

“We haven’t had any of that curriculum going on [prior to IB],” argued Gleason argued who wondered whether students in the lower grades will be adequately prepared for IB coursework.

Pierson High School Vice Principal Gary Kalish countered that the IB curriculum — which focuses on more broad-based and internationally focused learning — is a step-up from what the district currently teaches. Furthermore, he said teachers have reported that IB “has more flexibility” when it comes to designing lesson plans than courses purely designed according to state requirements.

Parent Laura Matthers expressed her concern for this year’s tenth grade class, which she referred to as the veritable “guinea pig” class: the first Pierson class with the opportunity to graduate students with IB diplomas.

“I want to make sure you’re going to be leaving a lot of options available for these kids coming up the pike,” she said.

Nichols estimated that in its first year, the IB program would probably only have 10 to 15 diploma candidates, a figure based on the current number of students who take five to seven AP classes before graduation. But this leaves several dozen other students who currently take advanced coursework to a lesser degree.

While Nichols mapped out a three-year plan that would reduce the school’s AP offerings to three courses by 2015, he assured Matthers that students in next year’s eleventh grade class would have the opportunity to take up to seven AP courses by the time they graduate. And gradually, as AP courses are pared down, Nichols said he’s confident that the school will be able to grow its number of IB diploma candidates, the same way it grew the number of students taking AP courses.

As for the cost of the program, Nichols said he hoped to put some rumors to rest Monday night.

“A lot of people have concerns about the tax cap, and justifiably,” he began. “But the primary cost [of the IB program] would be an IB coordinator. But we’re of the opinion here that we don’t need to assign a teacher to do that. Mr. Kalish and I can just fold [those duties] into what we do, which would [garner] a savings of $60,000.”

With that cost out of the picture, the school would have to pay $10,200 annually, plus a one-time cost of $135 per diploma student and the $92 test fee, which Nichols said is comparable to the fees associated with individual AP exams.

“Certainly, every dollar counts,” Nichols continued, but with an overall budget set at roughly $33 million, he added, “that’s a very small number.”



“It is my opinion, and the opinion of others who have looked at both programs, that IB allows us the opportunity to raise our standards even higher,” Nichols said. “The skills emphasized in IB will allow us to serve our students better.”


With the exception of one to two teachers, Nichols said the Pierson faculty largely supports IB. Teacher Peter Solow, who attended last Monday’s meeting and is slated to go to IB training this year, told the board he has a positive outlook on the program. “Without having gone to training, [Art Teacher Elizabeth Marchisella] had a very positive reaction to the training that she got,” he relayed. “I’m looking forward to seeing more of what it’s about.”

Schools: Gearing Up For Day One

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


By Claire Walla


Taking Advantage of Tax Cap Exemptions

Starting a process board members hope to continue through the next budget season, the district heard a presentation from District Business Manager Janet Verneuille on the two-percent tax levy cap.

Verneuille noted three crucial exemptions to the cap. First: pension cost increases above a certain threshold, which in this case is two percent. In other words, Verneuille explained that this year the district’s increase in pension contribution costs is 2.49 percent, so .49 percent will be exempted from the cap.

Secondly, the tax cap will exempt the local share of capital expenditures. “That’s good news,” Verveuille exclaimed, “that’s huge.” Without this exemption, she continued, the district would have less incentive to pass capital improvement projects.

The third exemption refers to certain legal expenses. However, Verneuille explained, “this does not apply” to this district.

The board briefly discussed the notion of looking at its current budget with a little more scrutiny to get a better sense of where some cost-saving measures might lie. Referencing the school’s clubs and sports programs, board member Walter Wilcoxen wondered how much the district could save if certain programs were cut.

“What about trying to pare-down now” to avoid making more drastic cut-backs going into next year, he wondered.

Board Member Chris Tice said she agreed, in theory, with being proactive in taking steps to cut costs, but she cautioned the board against looking at certain aspects of the budget with a narrow lens.

“The beauty of the budget process is that we get to see what our program looks like, A through Z,” she said. “We’re looking at it from an informed, balanced perspective.”

With both perspectives, the board had little argument, and yet drew no conclusions. The discussion will be ongoing.


Summer School a Success

Before giving his “back to school” report at last Monday’s board of education meeting, August 14, Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone spoke for a few minutes about the success of this year’s summer school program.

“We invited the same number of students as last year,” he said. “But our participation rate was higher than in years past. Bussing [which was provided for all students] made it more possible for parents to get their kids to and from school.” Most importantly, he added, it made it so that students were in their classrooms on-time, which had been a problem in years past.

School Board Member Sandi Kruel complimented Malone on a job well done, explaining that field trips — like those to the South Fork Natural History Museum, Morton Wildlife Center and even a math-related journey to Conca D’Oro, measuring ingredients for pizza dough — reportedly made the experience worthwhile for one family she spoke with.

“However you did it this year, it was the first time I heard of a student actually enjoying summer school,” she noted.


Enrollment Increases

Though enrollment is slightly up at the elementary school with the closing of Stella Maris last year, Malone said, as of now, enrollment “is still fairly steady” in comparison to last year. In fact, the slight increase is even less than administrators had initially imagined because much of the Catholic school’s student population was from out of district.

“Many of those families that live in Sag Harbor and chose Stella Maris for the Catholic education chose to go to Our Lady of the Hamptons [in Southampton],” he explained.

However, while the main student body will remain steady, the district’s Pre-K program — which was offered last year for a fee, but is free for all families in the district this year — has an expected enrollment of 42. “It’s a big up-tic from last year,” Malone continued, when the program had 12 students. The Pre-K program is scheduled to have two morning sessions and one in the afternoon.


Playground to be Ready for Start of School

Though it may look like a giant sandbox now, Principal Matt Malone confirmed Monday night that the district just signed a contract with Lobo Construction Company to begin work on the school’s new playground. The work actually began last Tuesday, August 15 and is scheduled to be completed next Thursday, August 25.

“We’re right on track,” he continued, noting that the work will all be complete before the start of the school year.


New Courses for the New Year

At the upper school, Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols announced four new classes that will be offered this year. In addition to a 3D sculpture course and advanced marine biology (which will be taught by Dr. Robert Shoemacher, himself a former marine bio major), the school will add a year-long personal finance class. This is a subject several board members and participants at last year’s educational forums highlighted for its importance. Lastly, the school will offer a course in social studies called Philosophy of Understanding. Nichols said it is partially modeled after courses in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which emphasize critical thinking and a depth of knowledge over wide-ranging survey courses.

Nichols also pointed out that the school will see a savings of about $75,000 this year. Instead of hiring a new faculty member in the wake of art teacher Tim Kraszewski’s retirement, “his classes have been farmed out to other departments,” as Nichols put it.

“The big challenge this year will be to finish portions two and three of the IB application,” Nichols continued. Should all go according to the current timeline, Nichols expects the school to be approved in the spring, which would allow Pierson to begin offering its first IB Diploma courses in the fall of 2012.

A Place for IB

Tags: ,


Though summer is approaching and the school year is winding down, the IB debate goes on in the Sag Harbor. The IB or International Baccalaureate program is one that could replace AP at Pierson High School in the coming years, and while the district is keen to go ahead with the program, there are still many people who are nervous about what it will mean to our students.

On the surface, IB sounds good to us. The program emphasizes a global curriculum with an emphasis on critical thinking skills over rote memorization or “teaching to the tests,” which many people criticize as a problem with education in this country today.

So in principle, we like the idea of IB. But we are worried that with the district considering it for juniors and seniors, it’s being introduced at the wrong time in a student’s academic career.

By the time kids are in 11th and 12th grades, they have a pretty good sense of where their academic strengths and weaknesses lie. For better or worse, at this point in the game many of the skills that have been honed over the previous years are firmly ingrained — those test taking skills, if you will, and the ability to recognize what instructors are really looking for when an assignment is given. Their interests are likely firmly established as well with students by this point knowing whether they are particularly adept (or not) in subjects like mathematics or science, English or languages.

IB differs from AP in that it asks students to be multi-faceted and well-rounded in them all. But what about the students who aren’t — the math whiz, for example, who panics when he has to write a literary essay? With AP, that kid can just choose to take math, but with IB, a student tackles it all as a package.

Which is why we would like to see what IB looks like at the lower grade levels. It seems like this is the time when students are truly multi-faceted in their educational options. They have not yet developed the interests and aptitudes in specific subjects that will come later, so in many ways, elementary age students are blank slates just waiting for inspiration to lead them in a direction.

It also seems like the elementary level is the ideal place to develop the critical thinking skills that IB embraces. We imagine that IB would not just be training them early on to be test takers, but to form arguments and working methods according to how the real world works. By the time they reach high school, they should be well on their way.

There are many different kinds of learners and in their final years of high school, most students have a pretty good idea of where they are on that curve. Perhaps there are students out there who didn’t click with the teaching methods used in their elementary or middle school years and because of that, lost confidence and never excelled as they might have had they been offered an educational alternative. We think IB could be that educational alternative, but if it is offered only at the upper grades, it may bypass those who could benefited from it greatly earlier on. Because it places such emphasis on critical thinking and hands on-learning, is it possible that IB at the lower grades would provide students with a clearer picture of where their future lies? We think it’s certainly an idea that’s worth exploring.

IB Program Elicits Support, Questions

Tags: , ,


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).

Coming Face to Face With IB

Tags: , , , ,


Nichols

By Claire Walla

Over the summer, administrators at the Sag Harbor School District began discussing the possibility of implementing a new program, called the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Founded in Switzerland in 1968, IB was created as a global education initiative meant to bring writing, critical thinking and worldly perspectives to the forefront of elementary and high school education.

Currently, over 3,000 schools use the program worldwide, including six here on Long Island.

“For me, IB embodies the best current practices in education,” said Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols, noting its emphasis is project-based assessments rather than multiple-choice tests.

But as a program that seems to encourage more questions than answers, many are still wondering what it’s really all about.

Robin Caltri, an independent consultant who promotes what he sees as the benefits of IB, came to Pierson two weeks ago to talk with parents and staff about the program. For Calitri, former principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, the value of IB is that it surpasses traditional ways of measuring intelligence.

“A gifted kid is one who reads well, thinks logically, does what the teacher wants and can do well on an exam,” Calitri said. “Others of us don’t have the gift of that intelligence. It takes us other ways to show what we know.”

IB draws from the teaching methods of Howard Gardner, a widely influential educator who proposed a method of education based on multiple intelligences: visual, spatial, kinesthetic, musical, logical, etc. And in an IB classroom, as many of these perspectives are drawn upon as possible. This may require teachers to assign more group assignments, skits and art projects, or even take more field trips.

“Students should not passively take notes and then regurgitate [that information] on a test,” Calitri added.

There may also be some change in content. But, while IB offers its own list of courses, it won’t exactly require teachers to reinvent the wheel.

For example, New York State requires eleventh graders to take U.S. history. In order to meet the state standards as well as IB requirements, diploma students would take an IB course called “History in America.” While it covers the United States, Calitri said this IB course also challenges students to think beyond their own borders, to consider a wider scope of American history that includes Mexico, Canada and Latin America.

“There may be some teachers who will have to redo their curriculum, and sometimes that’s a difficult thing for some teachers,” Calitri added. “They will have to broaden the scope of what they teach because a lecture course just doesn’t work.”

Representing the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH), Pierson math teacher Jim Kinnier addressed IB at last Monday’s education forum by reading from a statement drafted by TASH, essentially stating that teachers are open to exploring new ways of enhancing the curriculum.

“There’s some thought that teachers here are not open to improvement, and that’s absolutely not true,” he said later.

As for how IB would affect his classes, Kinnier was “intrigued” by learning about new ways to improve students’ abilities to think; but, he added, “I can’t make a decision myself as to whether or not IB is good until I go to the training.” Kinnier will be attending a seminar later this month in Houston, Texas.

Pierson history teacher Frank Atkinson-Barnes, who has already been through the three-day training program, said he still favors AP.

“I really like my AP World class,” he said. “I just wish we could tweak it a bit.”

Atkinson-Barnes did admit that there are some things IB does well.

“It’s not always a matter of apples and oranges,” he added.

The two-year IB format, for example, would allow teachers to teach more in-depth writing and research methods, which currently “I just don’t have time to do.”

However, he believes AP courses, which tend to survey a wider range of information, often better serve high school students. In his opinion, the school should keep AP classes, but spice them up with IB principles.

“Whether or not we go to IB, these [IB training] days weren’t wasted,” he said.

Even though the number of IB diploma and certificate students should roughly equate to the number of students currently taking AP courses, the idea — should the diploma program be a success — is for IB principles to trickle into many Pierson classes, and for the school to eventually grow the amount of IB participation.

And while many parents are enthusiastic for this change, some are still on the fence.

“You’re talking about changing the whole curriculum. This is going to be something that’s going to affect everyone in this school,” said Laura Matthers, whose twin daughters are currently freshmen at Pierson.

The school is considering implementing the program in fall 2012, so Matthers’ daughters will be among the first Pierson students eligible to receive IB diplomas. But, she added that as a parent of two children with different passions, she is concerned that IB might affect one child differently than the other.

For her daughter who is more artistically inclined, Matthers said IB pedagogy might suit her needs well. She welcomes the opportunity to enrich standard-level courses with more activities and to emphasize different ways of learning.

On the other hand, her other daughter is on-track to take Advanced Placement (AP) scholar courses, a track she worries might get bumpy should IB get in the way.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said, including whether or not IB credits will transfer over to university, or even whether IB would make it more difficult for her daughter to qualify for a merit-based scholarship. (Administrators have said that many schools do recognize and give credit for IB coursework.)

According to Nichols, should IB get introduced to the curriculum, AP options would not diminish, in fact AP courses might even be taught alongside IB. He also reiterated IB’s claim that any student who has completed IB coursework will do well on an AP exam in that same subject — the reverse is apparently not true.

Though it’s a hot topic at Pierson, elementary school parents have IB on their radars as well.

As her fifth-grade daughter nears her transition from Sag Harbor Elementary School to Pierson Middle School, Joan Dudley said she actually started considering moving back to Westchester County and sending her daughter to a private school in the city. She wondered whether a move to the private sector might give her children the more challenging curriculum she feels they need.

She’s since reconsidered.

“The thought of IB coming has made me stop thinking about other options,” she said.

Dudley is excited for the prospect of introducing IB to the curriculum not just for the opportunity students will have to receive an IB diploma, but for the work ethic that goes hand in hand with the program’s ideals.

“Whether they’re [teaching for] the diploma, the certificate, AP or regular courses, teachers will be teaching at a higher level,” she said.

Julie Hatfield, another fifth-grade parent at Sag Harbor Elementary School, also attributes her success to IB. Hatfield was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania as a Benjamin Franklin Scholar, and ultimately earned her masters degree in architecture from Harvard.

One of only two students who participated in the IB program in its inaugural year at South Side High School, Hatfield praises IB for bringing the idea of critical questioning to the forefront of her education.

“I don’t even think I knew that was an option before,” she said.

Hatfield is sometimes frustrated by her daughter’s assignments — like “mad-minute math,” meant to test her ability to recall information quickly — and hopes the district will continue to explore IB, which hinges on more critical thinking.

“I have noticed that there are some teachers who are comfortable differentiating between students’ abilities, and some who aren’t,” she said. “And the ones who are, do more project-based learning. They are the ones my children are most engaged by, and I think IB is an extension of that.”

Nothing is set in stone, but the district will continue to consider the IB program for fall 2012. Principal Jeff Nichols will give a presentation on IB at the next board of education meeting on Monday, February 7.

Question Arise Over IB Program

Tags: , , ,


By Claire Walla

Don’t know much about IB?

That was the premise of last week’s International Baccalaureate (IB) information session, held Wednesday, January 19 in the Pierson Middle/High School auditorium.

IB, which is already used widely in Europe, is gaining popularity in the United States where it is replacing or being offered alongside AP programs and is seen by many administrators as offering students a wider world view.

According to Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto, administrators had decided over the summer to closely examine the IB program and how it might fit in to the academic curriculum at Pierson. While Dr. Gratto told those at last week’s meeting this is something that is “still in the exploratory phase,” he said administrators are working with potential plans to implement IB beginning in fall 2012.

A group of about 50 parents, teachers and administrators gathered to learn about the program from Robin Calitri, former principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, which has the longest history of IB on Long Island. Calitri also held an information session for parents the following day.

Calitri touted IB for challenging both teachers and students to think outside the box.

“IB values global or international mindedness,” he said, adding that while IB students are given assessment tests throughout their time in the program, one of the capstones for IB diploma students is a 4,000-word essay, which forces students to use critical thinking skills rather than fact-based recall methods to test their knowledge.

Ok, but how does it all work?

For the Sag Harbor School District, which is considering introducing an IB diploma program for eleventh and twelfth graders, participating students will take a total of six IB courses, revolving around what’s known as “the hexagon.”

Students will choose study topics that stem from six main subject areas — language, individuals and societies, mathematics and computer science, the arts, environmental sciences and second language. In addition, these courses are bolstered by the program’s three core requirements: Creativity Action Service (CAS), which encourages learning outside the classroom; the 4,000-word extended essay; and a vaguely titled course called Theory of Knowledge (TOK).

Some parents at the meeting expressed concern over the cost of a program that will potentially affect a select few.

Calitri was very frank: “[IB] can cost taxpayers anywhere from $30,000 to $200,000 a year,” he said.

While the Sag Harbor School District should not expect to see costs reach anywhere near the six-figure range — these estimates apply to schools implementing IB at all levels of education, from elementary school up — IB does have a price tag.

In addition to the $7,000 application fee and the fees associated with joining the worldwide IB network, it costs about $1,500 to $2,000 for Pierson to send each teacher to IB teachers training conferences. (This year the district set aside all of its professional development funds for this purpose.)

Parent Tom Gleason shared his doubts about the program. “I worry about the percent of students who will actually be in IB courses,” he said, adding that the school has already invested money in an AP curriculum. “To me, I’d rather put money into raising all students to a higher level.”

According to Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols, IB would function similar to the way AP already does. He estimated there are typically eight to 14 students who take more than five AP courses at Pierson during the course of their studies, a work load similar to that required of those pursuing an IB diploma. And just as certain students already take individual AP courses, those same students would be able to take single IB courses for certificate credit.

At eight to 14, the number of potential diploma students represents roughly 20 to 30 percent. But, Nichols added, “Just like we did with AP, we’ll grow that number.”

Pierson math teacher Jim Kinnier asked about the more practical implications for teachers, questions concerning the content matter of an IB class versus an AP class, as well as the instruction time necessary for IB students. Standard level IB classes require 150 hours of instruction, while higher-level classes require 240.

To the former, Calitri was vague. He said it’s up to the teacher and the school to choose the specific content of the course.

“The [administrators] will design the program for the school based on the strengths of its faculty,” he explained.

And to the latter, he said 40-minute class periods, like those at Pierson, are standard.

“Schools just have to figure out a way to get 150 hours of instruction,” he added, which can be difficult if schools lose teaching time to snow days or teachers conferences, or if individual students miss class periods. In these instances at Rockville Centre, Calitri continued, sometimes teachers scheduled additional instruction for after-school hours.

School board member Chris Tice asked Calitri how sophomores who currently take AP classes but would not be able to partake in the IB program until their junior year factor into the equation.

Calitri spoke well of AP classes, saying “Sometimes AP is used as a set-up for students on-track to do IB.”

In a later interview, Dr. Gratto mentioned that AP would most likely still be an option for students, should plans for the IB program come to fruition.