ACSU considers switch to global education plan

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central Supervisory Union is considering the adoption of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program as a way of placing students more in charge of their own learning and to make them better prepared for success in an increasingly global community.
Offered in more than 4,000 schools worldwide, the IB program “aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” reads the program’s stated mission on ibo.org. “To this end, the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programs of international education and rigorous assessment. These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”
Addison Central School Union Superintendent Peter Burrows gained experience with the IB program in his former life as a teacher, and then principal, of Willamette High School in Eugene, Oregon. One of the courses he taught was IB English.
“I came in at the mid-stream of our (IB) candidacy phase, and was part of bringing IB into the high school,” said Burrows, who recently marked his third full year as top administrator of the ACSU.
The IB program originated during the 1960s as a diploma option for high school juniors and seniors.
“That program arose out of the desire of international schools to have a shared curriculum where they could be assured that students in whatever country they went to were getting the same kinds of standards, experience and preparation,” Burrows said.
But IB grew to include a Middle Years Program in 1994 that covers instruction for grades 7 through 10; a Primary Years Program in 1997 covering grades pre-K through 6; and the IB Career-related Program in 2012 that provides a choice of international education pathways for 16- to 19-year-old students.
The Primary and Middle Years programs are designed around inter-disciplinary units of study, with specific components, according to Burrows. Students are expected to think outside of the box and ask questions about the material they are being presented.
A transition to IB could be fairly seamless, with professional development over a three-year authorization process to introduce the program at ACSU, according to Burrows. The IB diploma program would require some changes in course scheduling at MUHS, Burrows believes.
Having IB experience on a high school transcript can make graduates more appealing to top colleges and universities, Burrows said.
“Students can take all of the diploma courses and receive college credit, and some colleges allow students to enter as a sophomore after completing the IB Diploma program,’ Burrows said. “The design of an IB diploma course is, I think, more focused on inquiry, so there are a lot more opportunities for creative assessments.”
He recalled an IB English class he taught in Oregon in which students made presentations. Some worked on art pieces and talked about how that artwork was connected to poems they had read. They spoke of the different layers in the poems and how they related to different layers to the artwork. This offered students an opportunity to construct their own meaning out of the exercise.
With unified school governance and a strategic plan in place, Burrows believes ACSU is well-suited to make the transition to an IB program. Schools within the ACSU will soon be governed by a single Addison Central School District (ACSD) board.
That ACSU strategic plan includes three “foundational goals,” including educational success, community involvement and developing the appropriate educational systems and tools to further student success.
“We realized that we needed to create a guaranteed and viable curriculum to make sure all of our schools were articulated and students in every elementary school were prepared at the same depth and breadth to be successful in middle school, high school, and then prepared for life beyond graduation,” Burrows said. “We also looked for a framework that would help us meet many of the goals of the strategic plan. That’s where we started our conversation about IB as a means to meet many of those objectives.”
Those goals, Burrows explained, include personalized learning, stronger engagement by students in their studies, as well as doing a better job of connecting students globally and locally to become stronger world citizens.
ACSU’s investigation of IB officially began last fall with the creation of three work groups to study the benefits of the Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma programs. Each group is made up of ACSU administrators and teachers.
“They are learning as much as they can about IB,” Burrows said of the groups. “They are doing a lot of reading and going on site visits to IB schools in New England to learn more.”
Based on the groups’ research, the ACSU will launch a feasibility study to look at what adoption of the IB program might bring educationally to Middlebury-area schools, and how it matches with the current vision and mission that has been established for the district. Officials would also have to determine what, within the current curriculum, would have to be changed to accommodate IB.
District officials will also inform and solicit feedback from residents of the seven ACSD-member towns, according to Burrows.
“We are planning some community outreach in May with an IB forum to invite people to learn more,” Burrows said.
At the end of this exploration phase this fall, the 13-member ACSD board could be asked to vote on whether to pursue IB for implementation in district schools. A “yes” vote would trigger a three-year authorization process through IB.
The Vermont Agency of Education does not need to endorse a public school’s adoption of the IB program. Burrows noted that the program meets the state’s education standards.
Burrows believes the ACSU is the only supervisory union in Vermont currently considering IB authorization.
The Dover School in 2015 became the first public school in Vermont to receive candidate status for the International Baccalaureate program. The (private) Long Trail School in Dorset now offers the IB diploma program.
“The IB program is not as well-rooted here in the Northeast as it is in other parts of the country,” Burrows said, citing Chicago public schools as a system that has embraced IB.
“I do think it offers us the ability to collaborate with educators to develop curricula that is constantly improving and grounded in sound pedagogy.”
Burrows explained transitioning to IB would not mean a wholesale switch in course material or academics. Rather, it would be a change in how the information is conveyed and how students would be expected to absorb their lessons.
“Good teaching is good teaching,” Burrows said. “For some people, it would not be a dramatic shift.”
Rick Scott, chairman of the ACSU board, is pleased to see the district evaluate the IB program as a potential match.
“We’ve been in agreement for quite a while that establishing a comprehensive Pre-K-12 curriculum is essential to improving outcomes for all students,” he said. “The International Baccalaureate program could be the vehicle to accomplish that.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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