Smith gets backing to offer IB program

Advanced curriculum will start at 2 high schools

February 06, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board gave Superintendent Eric J. Smith the go-ahead yesterday to offer the International Baccalaureate program at two schools this fall.

Though Smith and his staff have been preparing for months to begin using the advanced high school curriculum, the superintendent said he wanted to be certain of the board's backing before proceeding.

Board members did not vote on the program yesterday - they aren't required to take formal action until they decide Feb. 19 whether to fund it in next year's budget - but discussed their high hopes for the program and gave Smith their blessing.

Smith has not announced the schools where the magnet program will be implemented but has said he is leaning toward using Old Mill High for the northern part of the county and Annapolis High for the south.

County students will compete for 200 spots at the two schools, officials said. In the program's early years, the classes will be open only to International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma candidates.

A few board members expressed concerns about the program. Student board member Ashley Nathanson said some students have told her that they are worried about the effect of the prestigious program on Advanced Placement (AP) classes, the coursework that the majority of high-achieving students still will take next year.

Nathanson said students are afraid that colleges will penalize AP students for not taking part in the more-exclusive program. International Baccalaureate diplomas, which are issued in addition to regular diplomas, are recognized by universities in more than 110 countries.

School officials said AP still will be valuable for college admissions because it is more widely accepted. Nathanson said she supports implementing IB. "There's too many kids in this county who are not challenging themselves," she said. "I really do believe this program will do that."

Board Vice President Carlesa Finney told Smith that the board needs to be given regular updates during implementation so that it can make informed decisions on budgetary and curriculum issues.

Also yesterday, the board voted 6-1, with one member absent, to cut short four school days in March and April to provide teacher training for academic initiatives that will begin in the fall. Students will be dismissed from school three hours early March 11 and 25, and April 15 and 29.

Smith said the training needs to be done on days teachers are contracted to work because the system cannot afford to pay them extra to train in the summer.

Middle and high school teachers will be trained to work under new block schedules, which will require them to teach 86-minute class periods, nearly twice as long as most are used to. Elementary school teachers will learn how to use the phonics-heavy Open Court reading program and a new math curriculum.

Board member Eugene Peterson, the lone dissenter, said early dismissals place too great a burden on low-income or single parents. For some parents, Peterson said, "it's not just an inconvenience. It may be an economic loss."

Severna Park parent Lisa C. Cox said she hopes the school system finds another way to provide the training. Cox, who heads Severna Park Middle School's Citizens Advisory Committee, said parents have complained to her about having to leave children unsupervised when school is dismissed early.

"That's when students tend to get in trouble: when they get home and their parents aren't home yet," Cox said.

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