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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

School Board, parents debate the IB program at Middlebury Union High School

Middlebury Union High School, a part of the Addison Central School District, is weighing the future of its IB program.
Middlebury Union High School, a part of the Addison Central School District, is weighing the future of its IB program.

The recent election for the Addison Central School District (ACSD) board on March 7 ignited debate around the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, and in particular, issues surrounding mental health, equity and the structure of the program. 

According to Suzanne Buck, who was reelected last week and has served on the board since 2016 as a representative for Bridport, the IB program was introduced by a group of high school educators while ACSD was becoming a unified district that included the towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. In 2016, the ACSD voted unanimously to implement the IB program across its nine schools in an effort to develop a common learning community across the district.

“Some of the driving force was that the structure of IB is one that teachers across the district, depending on the curriculum area you work in, get to meet as teams,” Buck told The Campus. “You get to learn the depth and breadth of the curriculum from pre-K to twelfth grade, including what is required and what can help students get there.”

The IB authorization process involved a two to three year review procedure that was completed in 2020. ACSD currently offers the Primary Years Program (PYP) in all seven elementary schools, and the Middle Years Program at middle schools and high schools. The option to pursue the Diploma Program is available for high-achieving students in the 11th and 12th grade at Middlebury Union High School (MUHS), though completing the Diploma Program is not a requirement within the IB program. 

Students are granted an IB Diploma for completing two years of the Diploma Program and can receive an IB Certificate for completing one year of the program. All students are able to take Diploma Program-level classes without committing to the full two years and/or fulfilling the testing requirements.

According to Mary Heather Noble, a member of the school board and parent at MUHS, the MUHS Class of 2022 had 20 seniors earn IB diplomas and 25 more students earn IB certificates, making up 38% of the graduating class.

Additional students take the Diploma Program-level courses without committing to the two-year track. “This means that more MUHS upperclassmen continued to receive the IB curriculum in their regular MUHS coursework than most people recognized,” Noble told The Campus via email.

According to the ACSD Director of Business and Operations Matt Corrente, annual costs paid for IB in the fiscal year 2022 were $79,449 and projected to be the same in 2023. Within these expenses, the district pays a flat fee for the IB program per school. 

Three years after its implementation, several newly elected members of the ACSD School Board expressed the need to assess the IB program’s ability to serve the district. Jason Chance, who was recently elected to represent Middlebury on the school board, is also a parent and former student in Vermont schools. In response to questions from the Addison Independent prior to the election, Chance stressed the importance of assessing the impact of the program.

“Two-year classes in 11th and 12th grade limit student options and reduce flexibility,” Chance said. “The rigorous curriculum can be stressful for students and not all students are thriving in the IB curriculum.

Owen Hamilton ’26.5 is a former student at MUHS who completed the Diploma Program and was among the first cohort of students to complete the program at MUHS. Hamilton said the Diploma Program curriculum did not permit much flexibility for students to do extracurricular activities outside of the rigorous class schedule.

“I was a theater and art kid, and that was not great with the rigidity of the schedule of [the Diploma Program]” Hamilton told The Campus. “You have to take six classes, plus the Theory of Knowledge class, and [you have] one block of free time. It wasn’t easy taking the classes you had to take and then doing an art class or theater workshop.”

Noble also noted the stress that the IB program has placed on teachers in the district. For educators, IB has created more work; while some welcomed the change, others were more reluctant to embrace the transition to IB. 

“Obviously our educators have done the heavy lifting of completing the required training and adapting their curriculum to make sure students are being consistently taught and held to the same standards across the district,as well as making sure that 1st graders are being taught what they need to learn to be prepared for 2nd grade instruction and so on,” Noble said.

Equity is another concern for the school board. Buck said that considerations for special education learners in the IB program have been discussed since it was first introduced in 2015. As an educator who has worked with students with recognized disabilities, Buck said she is still unsure about how the IB program could support those students in achieving their goals.

Buck also expressed the need to evaluate how students from different socio-economic backgrounds are supported by the program. “Even if all students have the same educational experiences when they’re in the school building, it is the socio-economic environment to which they go home that then plays a major role in this,” Buck said. 

ACSD Director of Communications and Engagement Emily Blistein said the concerns around IB coincide with other challenges the district is facing. The consolidation of the district and the Covid-19 pandemic have added additional stress while also transitioning to the IB program.

It is important to differentiate between the issues that can be attributed to IB and those that cannot be directly linked to the program, Blistein noted.

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“There are some big issues that have been linked to the IB that aren’t actually IB,” Blistein told The Campus. “There’s so much misunderstanding within our community; what we’ve found is that any issue that folks are having with the district, they’re attaching to the IB.

Blistein stressed that the goals of the IB program are to support students from different elementary schools in the district and bridge any gaps when they come together at Middlebury Union Middle School.

“IB is actually helping us have a more equity focused approach to learning, because no matter where they go to school, their teachers are collaborating,” Blistein said. 

The IB program is also an investment towards schools and teachers in the district. Blistein believes IB provides the best framework for teaching and learning, and by purchasing the program, the district receives additional resources to support its teachers and staff.

Noble also noted that the IB program places the ACSD ahead of other Vermont school districts in fulfilling Vermont Education Law’s Act 173. According to Noble, Act 173 requires school districts to adopt a coordinated curriculum that ensures equity across the district, achieved through both vertical and horizontal alignment — alignment between grades and across schools — for continued preparedness as students move up in their education. 

“Because ACSD has already gone through the IB authorization process, we are way ahead of most Vermont school districts in bringing consistency to the curriculum delivered across its member town elementary schools,” Noble said. “So the decision to invest in IB back in 2016 should ultimately help us in our efforts to achieve some of the requirements of Act 173.”

Taking this into consideration, Noble said she believes the district has not had enough time since IB was authorized to accurately assess the efficacy of the program. 

“If we do try to modify how we implement IB, I would like to see efforts to make sure that the MUHS schedule can offer enough flexibility for students to enjoy all the opportunities they wish to enjoy (e.g., band, choir, art, technical coursework), even if they chose to pursue the IB Diploma or IB certificates,” Noble said. 

Blistein added that it is a priority for the district to educate the community on the IB program. “The biggest issue we are facing now with IB is we need a community reset on what IB actually is,” she said.