Mark McDermott

Teachers protest IB program

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Fifty teachers from Redondo Union High School stormed the Board of Education Tuesday night to protest the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program.

The group included a majority of the school’s department heads and some of the longest-tenured and most respected teachers at RUHS. Their concerns ranged from the cost of the program to what they argued was a lack of teacher input and a greater need to address the needs of less high-achieving students.

Linda Dillard, the chair of the school’s science department, told the school board that teachers have not been allowed to engage in a “data-driven, fact-finding process” to help determine if the program is a good fit for RUHS.

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“The IB program has been dictated to the RUHS teachers by the administration,” Dillard said. “…In my 25 years at RUHS, I have never seen a program of this magnitude and economic impact forced upon teachers who are expected to deliver a high quality program without being given any input in the decision making. What do you think the chances of success are?”

The International Baccalaureate is a much-lauded diploma program in which students enroll in a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes in-depth research, writing, theory of knowledge, and a more global perspective. The program, founded by the diplomatic community in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1968, has been embraced by RBUSD administrators and the school board, and is scheduled to become part of the high school’s curriculum offerings in 2012.

The board last September approved an initial investment of $10,000 to apply to become part of the network of IB schools – 3,097 schools in 140 countries, including 1,213 in the United States (but none thus far in the South Bay) – and tentatively committed to spending as much as $100,000 for implementation of the program. District officials estimate that the enrollment of only 17 new students would fund the program’s cost through increased state ADA (Average Daily Attendance) revenue. The hope is that IB would actually attract more students to the high school, which has seen a slight decline in enrollment.

But opposition to the IB program has emerged from the Redondo Union faculty. In January, 81 teachers signed a petition opposing the program’s implementation. Many of the teachers argue that the school already has a program in place – Advance Placement classes – that meets the needs of the students who would be attracted to IB. Instead, they point to the school’s lagging performance in the so-called “A through G” requirements that students need to enroll in the California state university system. According to a district report released last year, only 42 percent of RUHS students are meeting those requirements upon graduation.

History teacher Amber Keller told the board that even if the program attracted more students, it would do so at the expense of those already at the school

“In doing this, we are essentially neglecting the needs of our students at RUHS who need our attention now,” she said.

Foreign languages department head Cynthia Leathers questioned spending money on IB in the midst of a budget crisis.

“The district has increased K-12 class size, proposed unpaid furlough days, and required all district employees to contribute more for their health benefits,” she said. “What fiscally responsible organization implements expensive programs when there is not enough money to cover the basics?”

Several teachers took exception to the notion that they represented a minority voice at RUHS and were essentially reluctant to embrace change. Math teacher Tim Baumgartner accused Superintendent Steven Keller of perpetuating this notion in public meetings and newspaper accounts.

“I am not afraid of change,” Baumgartner said. “We know that RUHS is not perfect, but IB does nothing to help in the areas where improvement is needed. I am at a loss in trying to understand the superintendent’s behavior in saying that IB is opposed only by a few teachers who are afraid of change. Dr. Keller, you owe us an explanation.”

Keller said that he would be happy to meet with any teachers. Keller declined comment for this article, but in December addressed teacher dissent.

“This is what I say to teachers who are dissenting to the IB program and the IB approach – change is hard, isn’t it?” Keller said at the time. “Well, guess what? We are not asking you to change at all. You don’t have to teach IB. So move on. This is another opportunity for kids – that is what it is, and if you don’t want that, it’s okay.”

Tuesday’s protest upstaged an emotional farewell to outgoing board members Carl Clark and Arlene Staich, who each served eight years and helped shepherd RBUSD from relative disarray into an academically high-achieving and physically transformed school district (see story next week). Newly-elected board members Laura Emdee and Anita Avrick, who will be sworn in at the next meeting, were non-committal regarding IB in their campaigns. Board member Jane Diehl declined to comment on the matter after Tuesday’s meeting.

But board members Drew Gamet and Todd Loewenstein each said they would continue to support the IB program. Gamet, a teacher himself, said that teachers needed to be engaged “on a significantly more profound level” regarding IB. He said that the IB program would in fact address the “middle student” who isn’t necessarily high-performing or struggling.

“I one hundred percent agree we need to seriously look at the student in the middle,” Gamet said. “That is really important, and key to our success moving forward at the high school…..This program actually addresses the concerns of the students in the middle. This would allow students that have focuses in such things as the performing arts, visual arts, and culinary arts the opportunity to be in a program that is more than just that subject matter.”

Loewenstein suggested that there is significant buy-in to the program among parents and students, noting that 60 parents recently attended an IB informational meeting – three times as many as attended a meeting on the district budget.

“This is going to draw regionally,” Loewenstein said. “So I am confident that not only will the program break even, it will be a revenue producer for the district. But I still think we have to do a better job communicating and bringing people along.”

Loewenstein said that the development IB curriculum would be “a jointly discussed and vetted process” engaging teachers. “But in terms of the finances of the district, I think this board has shown that we take all expenditures very seriously,” he said. “And there is a significant case to be made it’s been a very successful approach for the district, financially.”

RUHS Principal Mary Little said she heard the concerns of teachers and understood that they feel the process of implementing IB has proceeded too quickly. But she noted that the district has been investigating the program for a few years – including sending teachers for training – and nearly everything they have learned about the program has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think IB is a great program and I think it would be fantastic for Redondo Union to have this opportunity for our students and our community, so trying to figure out how to make that happen…sometimes you have to make a decision to move forward,” Little said.

Little said more than 130 parents had attended two IB information meetings. Also, prospective students and parents making campus visits have shown particular interest in IB, she said.

“I’m starting to see students who are not currently enrolled in middle school in Redondo, or maybe enrolled in Redondo but looking at the choice for high school between Mira Costa and Redondo Union,” Little said. “And this is something new in Redondo making them take a good hard look at where they want to go to high school. The presence of IB is certainly impressive to many parents and students.” ER

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