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Thu, Aug. 06

Board asks for assurances on IB commitment<br>

The discussion followed an update on how much the district has spent on IB training, materials, consultants, teacher bonuses and application fees – $118,000 so far, what consultants for the PYP and MYP programs said about the school’s progress and follow-up from two faculty members who attended IB training recently.

“I think that we need to make sure that we’ve still got a consensus of what the teachers feel,” said Board member and acting President Bess Foster. “Do we still have a consensus of teacher support?”

Superintendent Sheila Breen said that she and Principal Bob Kelso met with each teacher in the school at the start of the year and asked specifically about commitment.

“Emotionally, nearly all of the teachers admit to being on a little bit of a roller coaster,” she said. “They want to be there already but this kind of change takes five years. Change is difficult and we’re asking them to make a major change.”

Kelso added that teachers have admitted a level of discomfort with the program.

“The not knowing part is uncomfortable for teachers,” he said. “The PYP coordinator’s sense was that the teachers are ready and willing but have a lot of questions and feel like they’re floundering around a little bit. My sense is that teachers overall have favorable feelings toward PYP and MYP but have some anxiety about the unknown.”

Breen said every teacher signed on to IB training as a contractual requirement last summer. And Kelso said that real buy-in came when the administration decided to hold off on incorporating the Diploma program.

“When Sheila put the Diploma program on the shelf, it eased a lot of anxiety of the teachers,” he said. “Diploma was the big elephant in the room.”

The school’s IB Coordinator, Becky Crumbo, said that when school started, teachers were in agreement about IB’s direction but now they are struggling with the realities of change.

“Teachers as a lot take things personally and feel we’re being criticized,” she said. “This is true, systemic change and it will look real different than it looks right now. As we get into the nuts and bolts, they’re saying ‘We’re fine, why did we have to change?’”

The MYP and PYP consultants believe Grand Canyon School is where it should be at this stage in the process, Breen said. But if the school doesn’t continue the process, she envisions IB going the way of other initiatives, like the Literacy First reading program.

“We brought in Literacy First and spent $50,000 and maybe four people in the elementary school are using it. Others are using elements but there’s not wholesale buy-in,” she said.

“We have to decide, what is our vision as a district and what is the long-term plan? Because we’re talking about a vision,” Crumbo said. “We did that with Literacy First and people didn’t want to do it so we dropped it.”

Foster agreed.

“The buy-in was not there for Literacy First,” she said. “Are we going through motions because it’s expected or because we believe? It’s important for us at this point, going where we’re at with the funds, to make sure we know one way or the other. For us as a district this is scary, with the amount of money we’ve spent. We need to check and be rechecking to make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Foster suggested a round table discussion or some other type of forum to give teachers room to talk about their feelings and concerns with the program, not only with the board but their colleagues as well.

“ If I’m teaching and I know teachers aren’t on the same page, it will affect doing my job. That’s why it’s so important for it to be encompassing,” Foster said. “Teachers need to be honest with their concerns. It’s a dialogue that needs to happen to keep everyone on track.”

“We’ve made a major commitment and we’re asking that teachers follow through and do what they’re asked to do. It’s apparent from the discussion tonight that we’re just starting the process. If we don’t plan, it’s not going to happen. It’s going to go away,” Breen said.

Board member Tammie Harris asked about training new teachers who join the district a few years from now.

“How hard will it be to get them on track (with IB),” she asked.

Breen said that IB schools enountered this situation in the course of normal turnover. The longer a school has operated under IB, the easier it is to assimilate new teachers.

She added that previous IB training or a willingness to commit to IB should be a requirement for all new hires in the district. She said that once the program is firmly established, even an administrative change would not change direction.

“Our goal within IB is to institutionalize it,” Breen said. “It will be fully authorized at the end of next year or the following year. After that, you’re not going to worry about whether or not Bob (Kelso) and I are here, IB is going to take on a life of its own.”

Board member Clarinda Vail asked about the timeline for acceptance of the school’s application and what happens if IB rejects it.

“I’m concerned about not having everyone on board and as a cohesive unit, then have spent this money and not get approved,” she said.

Kelso said that throughout the process, the school is working with consultants who are guiding them on how to meet the standards and will let them know when they are ready to successfully apply.

Breen said that IB does reject applications and cited Northland Prep as an example. The situation there, however, was that the school would not fully commit to the program or follow through on what was required.

Breen said that she is thoroughly committed to whatever it would take to get the program running.

“I’ll be here as long as it takes to get approval,” she said. “I’m in this for the long haul. This is something we need to stick with. If the board isn’t committed, let’s give this up right now, tonight.”

She said that if student performance hasn’t improved in two years, “Bob (Kelso) and I deserve to be fired. Honestly, some are waiting to see if we will be here long enough to see it through.”

Breen said it’s not surprising if board members are hearing complaints that aren’t reaching the administration.

“At this level of change, it’s normal that we hear some people gripe to each other, rather than coming to Bob and me. If that’s still happening in two years, then it’s a concern,” she said.

Some of these concerns, especially the time factor, were echoed in the report given by Crumbo and high school teacher Marcus Jacobsen, who both attended IB training in Philadelphia recently. Crumbo said that teachers will have to find or create all new rubrics and assessment plans to align with IB’s methods for measuring progress.

Jacobsen said that the teachers in his group complained extenstively about the paperwork involved.

“The planning time unbelievable,” he said. “All these people are coming from large schools with substitutes and money. The way most of those schools worked it out is they would give their teachers a paid day off to plan the next unit.”

To help teachers with planning, Breen said April IB training was cancelled and teachers will be paid the same rate as they got for training, using that time to work on curriculum alignment.

Breen said that change is inevitable whether the school pursues IB or not.

“There is nothing about IB that is different from what we should be doing anyway,” she said. “We need to completely align the curriculum whether we go IB or not. We have to combine what we’re doing now with teaching teachers how to teach. What IB does is give a framework for alignment, and we hold our teachers accountable for keeping planners and teaching those units and we have an assessment to see if the kids are learning. That’s just good practice, whether it’s IB or not.”

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