ACSD board votes to back progresssive curriculum
SHOREHAM — The educational sea change in Middlebury-area schools continued on Tuesday night in Shoreham, where the Addison Central School District (ACSD) board unanimously approved what will be a three-year effort to adopt the International Baccalaureate program within all nine of the district’s schools.
If successful, the ACSD would become the first supervisory union in Vermont to secure International Baccalaureate (IB) World School status for its schools. 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.
There will be costs associated with the decision, including $92,000 of application fees and annual school fees totaling $35,656 if the application is approved, although officials said those could be absorbed within the existing budgets, supplemented by grants.
The mission of the IB program is “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” according to program literature. IB works collaboratively with participating schools internationally, known as “IB World Schools.”
IB’s various programs — including the Primary Years Program (PYP) for students aged 3-12, the Middle Years Program (MYP) for ages 11-16, and the Diploma Program (DP) for ages 16-19 — are “student-centered, emphasizing not only the intellectual, but also the physical and personal development of every child,” according to a recently completed study on how IB could be implemented in the ACSU.
Bottom line: ACSD officials expect IB to usher in a more inquiry-based curriculum, as well as hands-on opportunities for students to do more learning outside of the classroom, with such potential partners as Middlebury College, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, local nonprofits and businesses. Program boosters believe IB will better prepare students for 21st- century jobs and for living in a more global society.
Tuesday’s vote placed the ACSD on a path to receive its formal IB status during 2019-2020 academic year. In the meantime, local educators will spend the next three years training in IB teaching principles as the district gradually transitions to full implementation.
Chris Eaton, a Weybridge representative to the ACSD board, said the IB curriculum coordinates the ACSD goals.
“I’m excited to try something new and progressive,” Eaton said. “It fits our mission.”
The ACSD includes the elementary schools in Bridport, Cornwall, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham, Middlebury and Weybridge, as well as Middlebury Union middle and high schools.
The ACSD’s feasibility study further described IB: “Each program emphasizes inter- and trans-disciplinary learning to support students in becoming knowledgeable, open-minded, principled, inquiring, and articulate. Each emphasizes personal responsibility and encourages a willingness to take risks, to consider the perspectives of others, and to be changed by the learning process.”
Three teams of ACSD officials spent around 90 minutes on Tuesday explaining to the board the perceived benefits of IB and how it could be implemented in district schools. Some of the key takeaways from the district’s IB feasibility study, which can be found in its entirety by clicking here, are:
• The IB program is currently offered in more than 4,000 schools worldwide. It originated during the 1960s as a diploma option for high school juniors and seniors.
• Meeting the requirements of the three IB programs across the district (Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma Program) will require hiring an additional 2.5 full-time equivalent world language teachers — one at Middlebury Union Middle School and a 1.5 FTE position to be shared between the Bridport, Cornwall, Salisbury and Shoreham Elementary Schools. This is because the IB programs calls for world languages instruction in all ACSD schools.
In addition, each of the three IB programs will need one or more “IB coordinators,” according to the study, which recommends a combined total of 2.5 FTE positions for those tasks.
“We would expect to meet these staffing needs through a reassignment of roles within the district rather than a series of new hires,” the report states.
• In addition to staffing adjustments, adopting the IB program will carry some annual costs during the three-year transition, largely related to staff training and annual application fees. According to the report, the ACSD schools will be responsible for a combined total of $92,000 in application fees during the three-year transition period until 2019-2020, followed by annual school fees amounting to a combined total of $35,656.
Also, affected teachers will participate in IB training that includes on-line, in-person and group-instruction options.
“If the ACSD were to aim to hit the minimum requirements for staffing and training, the district could probably achieve (IB) authorization over the next three years within the current budget,” the study states. District officials believe the costs can be covered through professional development resources in the ACSD school budgets, as well as from foundation grants.
• Addison Central administrators and teachers will have to work together on class scheduling to make the IB program work. And since teachers are working under an approved labor contract, their consent will be needed to adjust workdays to accommodate IB scheduling, according to the feasibility study.
“Daily and weekly school schedules would have to make room for second language study and additional requirements in the arts and sciences,” the study states. “In some schools, the school day may need to be longer to fit in all curricular requirements. Block schedules may have to give way to IB-required year-long courses … Teacher schedules would need to be redesigned to accommodate extensive collaborative planning and reflective practice … This attention to scheduling is focused not only in terms of days and weeks of instruction and planning, but also in terms of years of professional learning, collaboration, and curricular redesign.”
Tuesday’s action was by far the most ambitious yet taken by the ACSD board, formed this past spring following a Town Meeting Day vote by Addison Central Supervisory Union voters to consolidate their school governance under Vermont’s Act 46.
The new ACSD board will soon supplant the nine school boards that have presided over Addison Central Supervisory Union schools. That consolidation vote — coupled with the recent drafting of an ACSU strategic plan that codifies the district’s priorities — led some board members to conclude that the time is now right to make a concurrent change in curriculum.
“I agree that this is the moment to do this, if we are going to do it,” said ACSD board member Jason Duquette-Hoffman of Middlebury said of the IB move.
But he stressed the district will need to be fully committed to making the transition, which he called a “significant undertaking.”
If done right, Duquette-Hoffman said the IB program could encourage a significant “culture of learning” in the ACSD.
Board member J.P. Rees of Middlebury also applauded the timing of the IB decision.
“I think unification and this time of change makes it a great time to do this,” Rees said.
Other board members, however, expressed concerns about the timing, and whether the ACSD might be moving too quickly into a substantial change in the way students are taught.
“The conclusion of this process has been quite quick,” board member Nick Causton of Shoreham said.
Board member Ruth Hardy of Middlebury agreed to support the transition to IB, though she did so with some apprehensions about timing, cost projections and procedure.
“I’m not convinced on the financial numbers … I think it’s going to cost a lot more than we think it is,” Hardy said. “I think we’re going to see that in our negotiations and throughout the years as we talk about the time costs. I think we need to be honest about that and say that we’re going to vote on something that costs us more than what’s in this report.”
Hardy is also concerned about the district’s ability to attract and retain teachers for the IB program.
“I do have concerns about recruitment, and the ability to recruit high quality teachers who want to embrace this type of teaching and who want to embrace the hard work that it takes,” she said.
Hardy questioned the board taking action on such a weighty topic so soon after its formation.
“This board is so new. We have no policies and we barely have worked together,” Hardy said. “I’m a little concerned about our authority to make this decision, frankly. But that being said, it’s a good opportunity and we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to make the decision. I wish we had more time to establish ourselves as a board before we make such a big decision, but sometimes that’s not possible.”
Board member Suzanne Buck of Ripton — an educator in her own right — said she is a big fan of IB. But she cautioned district officials to closely monitor implementation of the program to ensure that all students benefit from the new curriculum, not just the top pupils.
Board member Steve Orzech of Middlebury said he looks forward to implementation of IB in Addison Central schools, praising its “inquiry-based” emphasis.
“I wish my (son) was younger so he could take advantage of this,” Orzech said.
Addison Central Superintendent Peter Burrows was a big booster of bringing IB to Middlebury-area schools. Burrows gained experience with the 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.
“This is groundbreaking,” Burrows said on Wednesday, following the board’s IB vote. “It’s very exciting to see our community come together on something that will have such a positive impact on our students and community.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].