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IB officials to visit Austin, Decatur

By Bayne Hughes
DAILY Education Writer

hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Are Austin and Decatur high schools ready to the start International Baccalaureate's Diploma Program?

Representatives of the International Baccalaureate Organization will make their site visit to Decatur High on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and then will go to Austin on Nov. 2-3. They will inspect the two schools and decide if they are ready to start the honors program for juniors and seniors for the 2006-07 school year.

"This is extremely important to our school system," Superintendent Sam Houston said. "These visitors have seen schools and school systems all over the world, and they will be evaluating us. This is a process that takes the whole school system to the next level."

Flo Durway, a North Carolina consultant working with Decatur on the application process, said the group will talk to everyone involved in the program — teachers, program coordinators, principals, central office personnel, parents and students.

Master schedule

She said they also will look closely at the curriculum, scheduling and facilities. They will look particularly at each school's master schedule, which she said is important in IB because it helps teachers avoid project and test conflicts that can stress students.

"Basically, they're going to look at how ready they are to implement the program in such a way that their students will do well on the IB exams," Durway said.

Decatur began the application process in 2003 when school officials visited the Jefferson County IB School at Shades Valley High School. After several teachers and officials attended summer training, the schools sent a letter of intent in September 2004.

They spent the next eight months working on their applications, which they sent before a June 1 deadline to IBO in Geneva, Switzerland.

Austin Principal Don Snow and Decatur Principal Mike Ward said they feel their schools are well prepared after the application process and the IB training.

"Now we just need to refresh everybody on everything we've done," Snow said.

Feedback

Both schools received feedback from IBO officials on their applications. Decatur High IB Coordinator Kim Qualls said IBO asked for more information on funding the program. The application had a 3-year funding outline, and Qualls said IBO officials now want the outline extended to five years.

Austin IB Coordinator Susan Giguere said she was surprised her school didn't get the same question, but she plans to have an answer in preparation for the visit.

Financing International Baccalaureate in the school system has been an issue since March, when the Decatur City Council and mayor refused school officials' funding request. After a campaign to get city leaders to change their minds failed, Houston is trying to pay for the Diploma Program out of the school's general fund.

The Decatur City Schools Foundation gave the system $10,000 to fund some training.

School officials also want to start IB's Middle Years
Program for grades 6-10 and the Primary Years Program at the two magnet elementary schools, but they delayed implementation of the two programs for underclassmen because of lack of funding.

Giguere, a science teacher, said IBO wants her and a new biology teacher to participate in Diploma Program training this fall.

Qualls said officials also wanted more information on Decatur High's music curriculum.

Ward said the IBO committee can make one of three decisions after the visits. It can approve the schools to start the
program, tell the schools to make some minor changes or reject the schools.

Durway, who took IB training to become a site inspector but has never been on an inspection, said she thinks both schools are ready for the visit.

"Decatur is in good shape," Durway said. "Sam Houston started this process the right way. He's been right on top of everything, and he took the training. I think he understands what his system needs for the program."

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