Schenectady County

Parents voice concern over IB program

The city school district’s International Baccalaureate program — emphasizing rigorous curriculum for
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The city school district’s International Baccalaureate program — emphasizing rigorous curriculum for juniors and seniors — is in flux as both coordinators are leaving it at the end of the year and some administrators are expressing concerns about the program’s effectiveness.

Superintendent Eric Ely confirmed Monday that the two coordinators, Rosaline Horowitz and Greg Wolos, will be replaced with a single coordinator in the next school year. Both will return to their previous positions in classroom instruction. Their IB responsibilities were not paid positions, but they were freed up from other tasks to take on those roles.

IB is a rigorous curriculum requiring that students pass exams in six subject areas, write a 4,000-word essay describing a research project, complete 150 hours of creative, action and service activities and participate in a critical thinking seminar called “Theory of Knowledge,” according to the district’s Web site.

An organization called Friends of International Baccalaureate, which is a parent advocacy group, has expressed concern that they were not informed about the planned changes, according to an e-mail sent out by the group’s chairwoman, Nicole Simms.

“Needless to say, many of us are concerned and distressed by this development. Let’s work together to solve this problem and continue work on other concerns,” she wrote.

Friends of IB will meet with school officials at 7 tonight at Schenectady High School to discuss the program.

ONLY SEVEN DIPLOMAS

Ely said he decided to make some changes because not enough students were getting high scores on International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exams.

“We have seven students out of a high school out of 2,700 who received the IB diploma,” he said. “These are the best students. They should be doing better than that.”

Only about 19 candidates had taken the required courses that could have been eligible for the IB diploma, Ely said.

School officials could not immediately provide statistics for previous years.

Ely has assigned Paul Scampini, principal on special assignment for school development, to evaluate the district’s entire offerings for advanced students, including University in the High School, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement. Scampini and Gary Comley, associate superintendent for the high school, have proposed consolidating the positions of the two coordinators into one, which it had been at one point in the last five years. Ely said he does not believe the program has been as effective with two coordinators.

Another aspect of the proposal is to expand offerings at the elementary school for students that score 3 or 4 — the two highest levels — on the state English Language Arts and mathematics exams. “We want to challenge our students because we believe that the only way to get better as a district is to serve the needs of all of our kids — to also challenge our upper level academic kids and even our middle level kids to aspire to greater heights academically,” he said.

PARENTS WORRY

Simms said in a phone interview that the group met last fall about some ongoing problems. One of the issues she said was not all teachers were getting trained in the IB approach. Also, there were some course scheduling issues with school officials did not understand the courses that IB students had to take to complete the program.

Parent Elena Alvarez, who is a member of Friends of IB, said one problem in the last few years has been high staff turnover, which reduces continuity in the program. She also said she believes the superintendent has not given the program the attention that his predecessors have, and the performance of the program has declined. She said at one point, all the candidates used to graduate from the program and that number has declined.

She added that this program is an asset for the city and people who might not consider Schenectady are moving here.

“With the reputation that Schenectady High School has, I would never enrolled my children,” she said.

She said her daughter went through the program and is now attending the University of Pennsylvania.

Another parent, Theresa Fitzmaurice, said she was trying to get more information about the changes in the program. She said she has been happy with the program for the most part. One drawback has been if there have been courses offered for only a limited time and a set number of students can get in.

“I hope everything works out in the best interest of the kids,” she said.

Ely said no parents have contacted him complaining about the IB program.

Categories: Schenectady County

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