For the past half-decade, parents in the Watkins Mill cluster have had their sights set on one step to biggest bang for the school system's buck: the middle school precursor for the high school’s International Baccalaureate program.
After years of impassioned testimony and advocacy at school board meetings and public hearings, that longing finally came to fruition as the Board of Education last night endorsed a fiscal 2013 operating budget that outlines one new outlay in its belt-tightening $2.13 billion: roughly $400,000 to bring the IB Middle Years Programme to Montgomery Village and Neelsville middle schools.
Once the specialized curriculum goes into effect two years from now, Montgomery Village and Neelsville will be the county's sixth and seventh middle schools employing the program.
International Baccalaureate’s arrival to Watkins Mill High School in the 2004-2005 school year helped engage the cluster’s most competitive students and raised the school’s academic reputation. The 1,600-student high school had been next in line as MCPS rolled out the IB precursor that prepares middle schoolers, freshmen and sophomores for the academic and philosophical sea change that is an IB education.
Then the economy soured, and budgets froze.
MCPS administrators had agreed with the advocates' pleas, but didn’t have the roughly $133,000 per school needed to launch the Middle Years Programme.
“It doesn’t feel like a lot of money, but when you’re cutting a lot of programs across the board—” said Marty Creel, MCPS's director of enriched and innovative programs.
Now, Creel said, the school system has been compelled both by parents’ outcry and by restructuring at Neelsville required by its failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress.
All 600-plus students at MVMS will be a part of the IB curriculum, renowned for its rigorousness and emphasis on critical thinking.
“IB has a reputation as being for exceptional students. It’s not an elitist program and it’s not just for bright students; it’s really trying to make sure kids get a well-rounded education,” said MVMS Principal Edgar Malker. “It’s really about changing the way we do instruction, aligned with the way International Baccalaureate expects instruction. … It’s going to a radical change. We’re looking to transform learning for our students for the 21st Century.”
First, the schools must go through a two-year application that requires teacher training and approval by International Baccalaureate.
IB administrators have never denied an MCPS school’s application, Creel said. Presuming this application process goes smoothly, MVMS will launch IB for the 2013-2014 school year.
That’s just when Susan Young’s daughter will be starting 6th grade. For five years, Young championed the call for IB at MVMS when she was the Watkins Mill cluster coordinator and president of the Montgomery Village Middle School PTSA.
“I never thought I was going to have one of my kids see the benefit of the Middle Years Programme, but now she is,” Young said.
The International Baccalaureate program at Watkins Mill has been the linchpin of the school’s push to revamp its reputation, Young said, making it what school advocates like to call “the hidden gem” of Montgomery County. But IB could be having more of an impact, Young said.
“Part of our struggle—although this has gotten better—is that not enough kids are in the program because a lot of time parents just don’t know about it,” Young said. “The MYP, it creates a culture, this IB culture is just a way life, and then it just feeds right into the high school.”
- MCPS will apply to IB administrators this spring (for WMHS, MVMS and Neelsville)
- MVMS will select and hire an IB coordinator to be in place by July 1
- An administrative “leadership team” will be trained in August
- In September, the leadership team will begin training MVMS teachers
- The following fall, IB officials will visit the school for evaluation and feedback
- Launch the Middle Years Programme at the start of the 2013-2014 school year
- Once those students move on to Watkins Mill High School, expand MYP to the 9th and 10th grade