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International Baccalaureate Program is a Game Changer

Summer 2012

By David Zaslawsky

You can see the passion and excitement when Montgomery Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Thompson talks about the district’s International Baccalaureate program.

She really gushes more than talks about the IB, which really is a very, very big deal for not only the school system, but the River Region.

When economic development officials here try to recruit a company or hope to have an existing industry expand, having an IB program is a loud message that is well received, according to Thompson.

The district’s IB program will be launched in the fall at both MacMillan International Academy – an elementary school – and Johnnie Carr Middle School. All the students at those two schools – about 1,000 students – will be enrolled in the IB program. The Carr students in the magnet program will continue to take pre-AP classes, but will also be part of the IB program.

In two or three years, an IB diploma program – if approved – will be added to Loveless Academic High School, but not all students attending LAMP will be in that program.

“It’s a game-changer because it brings one of the world’s most prestigious programs to our school system,” Thompson said. “It is another option for our kids that want a different level of challenge that we think is very important. It’s a very different approach.

“It’s one that is recognized internationally and not only that, but it gets back to that teacher training part again. It trains its teachers.”

That training will also benefit teachers at the traditional high schools who learn some of the same techniques used at the IB schools, said Tom Salter, senior communications officer for MPS.

It was just recently announced that Auburn University Montgomery is providing the funding for an instructor and textbooks to offer Mandarin Chinese in the IB program. Thompson said that without AUM, the district would not have had the resources to offer Mandarin Chinese classes. Spanish will also be taught at the IB schools.

“I don’t think people understand what it (IB) does in terms of that extra level of rigor,” Thompson said. “Everybody keeps saying that LAMP is OK and LAMP is doing great. This is considered another notch up.”

The IB program could also be a draw for private school students. When the IB program becomes available at LAMP, Thompson said that private school students in the 11th and 12th grades could go to the IB school. She said that students can also take pre-AP classes in middle school for IB.

“I think it’s going to be a lure for kids at an academically high level who want exposure to that program,” Thompson said. “These kids (IB graduates) are offered automatic admissions at most colleges.” She said one student from an IB program in Huntsville, entered college with enough credits to be a junior.

There are only a few school districts in Alabama with an IB program and most have a diploma program. Thompson said that Montgomery may be the only district that will have an IB program at the elementary school level.

“For our international community – especially from Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex; and because of our manufacturing base coming from Korea and other places – the International Baccalaureate brings what they may know in their country,” said Nancy Beggs, director of education programs for the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It certainly is a reason to enroll students in public schools because we don’t have an IB program in any of our private schools. It is a premiere program that’s internationally recognized for quality.”