Chattanooga has global education on the mind these days, and two public schools are about a year away from implementing the first two International Baccalaureate programs in Hamilton County.
Brown Academy hopes to become Tennessee’s first IB elementary school in August 2009, and Signal Mountain Middle-High School should have its middle years program certified next fall, followed by the high school in 2011, administrators say.
“The biggest difference is the rigor that’s going on in our building, the questioning,” said Brown Principal Lea Ann Burk, whose staff is in its second year of implementing IB teaching methods.
IB programs, which emphasize question-based learning and global citizenry, have grown over the last year in the Southeast and around the nation, according to the International Baccalaureate Organization. From 2007 to 2008, Tennessee added three IB schools, going from 11 to 14; Georgia, which had 33 IBs last year, nearly doubled its total this year to 61; and Alabama jumped from 12 IB schools in 2007 to 18 this year.
During that same time period, North America and the Caribbean saw nearly a 12 percent growth in IBs, going from 1,197 schools to 1,337, organization figures show. Dalton High School in Georgia now is the IB school closest to Chattanooga.
Brown and Signal Mountain schools are poised to become Hamilton County’s first two IB campuses, but IB officials say they might be only the beginning.
“The best predictor of our growth is the introduction of the first authorized school in an area. It’s typically a word-of-mouth thing,” said Ralph Cline, director of global school services for the International Baccalaureate Organization, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland. “One school sees another doing an excellent program and wants to share in that success. It’s anywhere from emulation to competition.”
Although both Brown and Signal Mountain began the roughly three-year process of becoming IB schools before Volkswagen announced it was coming to town, Janet Brodsky, the middle-high school’s IB coordinator, said the timing is perfect.
“I actually think there will be more interest across the board now,” she said. “Internationally, the IB would be the most recognizable program for people who live in foreign countries.”
Attempting to lure a Mercedes plant to the area was one of the main reasons Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School in Birmingham was created in 1991, said coordinator Linda Smith. The international program proved successful, with the school in 2005 named the No. 1 high school in America, according to Newsweek magazine, and ranking in the top 5 in 2006 and 2007.
“It was an appealing draw to have this available, because the curriculum is such that it’s an easy transition in and out of other international systems,” Ms. Smith said. “It’s been an outstanding opportunity that the average school just can’t offer.”
Similar to the Paideia philosophy that governs two popular local magnet schools — Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts — the IB curriculum teaches students to ask questions and guide their own learning.
“It’s about letting the kids come up with what they want to learn, putting it more on their shoulders,” said Brown second-grade teacher Lindsey DeLaughter.
IB schools still follow state-mandated curriculum, but they incorporate IB themes into the lessons, with the ultimate goal of making students more aware of their place in a global society.
The academic rigor also is increased in an IB school, similar to Advanced Placement courses, IB officials say.
“AP is excellent as far as content and assessment, but there’s no ethos attached to the AP program,” Mr. Cline said. “The IB program, the mission, is certainly to offer a rigorous program of academics to a student but also to create a better and more peaceful world. It’s part of the framework for our courses.”
Teachers at Jefferson County IB School push their students to excel in subjects they may not initially have an interest in, Mrs. Jones said, and as a result, most find college to be easy.
“They always say they were well prepared. They say, ‘I’m from a little school in Alabama, and I’m just as prepared as anyone who’s gone to an exclusive private school,’” she said.
Because many people recognize the quality of an IB education, the addition of two IB programs may make the Hamilton County Schools system more appealing, said Brown IB coordinator Alicyn Wilkey.
“In Chattanooga, many people are drawn to private schools, but (public schools) have programs just as good,” she said. “We will now offer the same IB education as other schools around the world.”
In order for teachers to be certified to use specialized IB methods in their classrooms, they must attend several levels of intense training, each of which costs $600 per teacher.
After the Benwood Foundation and the Hamilton County Department of Education paid several thousand dollars last year to train teachers in IB techniques at Brown, four of them transferred to different schools this year, which meant more money spent on re-training new staff.
Ms. Wilkey, who is new to Brown this year, said she suspected the defecting teachers were not in favor of radically changing the teaching style they had used for years.
“This year, everyone seems to be on board,” she said.
If Brown and Signal Mountain are successful in their attempts to gain IB certification, Hamilton County would have an IB program all the way from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
But Brown faculty and parents say they are concerned about where their students will go to school once they get to sixth grade. If they are schooled in the rigorous, international curriculum, many say it’s only fair that students be allowed to continue their IB education by transferring to the Signal Mountain school.
“We’d love to have a place for our kids to go, but the decision is in (the school district’s) hands,” Ms. Wilkey said.
Although students from all over Hamilton County can attend Brown, which is a magnet school, Signal Mountain now does not enroll students from outside its zone.
Ms. Wilkey said district administrators have told her they will make a decision on whether to bus Brown students up to Signal Mountain once the first students graduate from Brown’s IB program.
Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...