Ann Arbor school board considering joining countywide International Baccalaureate program
The proposed Washtenaw County International Baccalaureate program took another step toward fruition Wednesday when the Ann Arbor school board got its first look at the rigorous program, currently used in 139 countries around the world.
Naomi Norman, the Washtenaw Intermediate School District's director of assessment, planning and research, told the board the IB program could provide students in Ann Arbor and the rest of the county with an internationally renowned education.
“Providing this program as a countywide option and doing it as a consortium would make the probability for success much higher and give the school a diverse student body,” she said. “It would provide options for all the kids in the community, and it’s the right thing to do.”
The IB program of learning used around the world. More than 3,000 IB programs exist worldwide involving about 1 million students. There are 33 IB schools in Michigan.
The proposed program would be housed at East Middle School in Ypsilanti, which closed to students at the end of last school year. It would be called Washtenaw International High School and include 600 students, with 150 students entering each of the first four years.
Norman said about 800 students in Washtenaw County currently go to schools outside the county, including some that attend IB programs.
Norman said the WISD would front $250,000 to start the program in the first years. The proposed budget for the first full year of the program, planned for the 2011-12 school year, is about $1.4 million.
Bert Okma helped to form the IB program in Oakland County and is consulting Washtenaw County schools on the effort. He said the program would allow students in Washtenaw to get an international emphasis in their education.
“We design the program locally with guidance from the IB to deliver international mindedness,” Okma said. “It’s difficult in subjects like mathematics, but in other subject areas the IB weaves, throughout all of its curriculum, an international emphasis.”
The board will hear a second briefing and is expected to vote on the program at its next meeting on Oct. 13. Other local districts also are currently deciding whether to join; the Saline school board voted earlier this week to participate.
Some members of the Ann Arbor board expressed an interest in joining the IB program Wednesday.
Secretary Andy Thomas said his support is tinged with skepticism. He said he was concerned about the amount of interest in the program in the western districts of the county due to the commute to the proposed location in Ypsilanti.
“It’s presented as a Washtenaw program, yet the location is on the extreme eastern border of our county,” Thomas said. “I understand East Middle School in Ypsilanti was available and it’s a relatively new building, but I question why a more centrally located site was not chosen.”
Joyce Hunter, the district's administrator for middle and high schools, said the committee planning the IB program looked at a number of other sites, including a vacant school in Saline and areas in Ann Arbor.
Okma told the board Oakland County districts such as Walled Lake and Oxford that are far away from the Bloomfield Hills location of the International Academy still had waiting lists.
In a survey of Ann Arbor, Dexter, Saline, Ypsilanti and Lincoln high school families, 882 families reported they were interested in the program, Norman told the board. She said she wasn't concerned about the ability to fill the 150 spots that would come open annually.
“There is lots of interest,” she said. “If we don’t provide it as a public school option, the families will still make the choice — they’ll just do it elsewhere.”
Spots in the school would be given to the districts proportionally based on size, Norman said. Students would be drawn into those spots through a lottery.
The school would be governed by a board of directors made up of all the superintendents of participating districts and the superintendent of the WISD.
Trustee Irene Patalan emphasized that school districts from the entire county had been in on the planning of the IB program and said it was a necessity.
“I feel this is wonderful and I feel we kind of must do this,” she said.
Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.