SEDONA - Barely two months ago, Big Park Community School was down to its last out, when it was saved as hundreds of community members nearly begged the Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District board to keep the neighborhood school open.
Now, the school is not only looking forward to the 2016-2017 academic year, teachers and staff are preparing for the school's new focus - as it seeks to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.
According to Debbie Jones, who will replace Jay Litwicki as the school's principal for the upcoming year, Big Park Community School is in the "beginning stages of exploration and training" in what is a three-year process to become an authorized International Baccalaureate school.
"Our teachers will be training and beginning implementation of IB concepts and units of inquiry this coming school year, to see if the International Baccalaureate, Primary Years Program is the right fit for our school, district and community," said Jones. "We will be sharing information with parents, the school board and community members along the way, so that they are aware of the changes and can give input and support."
Katie Chorlton, president of the Big Park Parent Teacher Student Association, said becoming an International Baccalaureate school is "an awesome move for Big Park and for our community. Although it's not official, I expect the program to be an enormous success and that it's just a matter of time until it becomes official."
What is an International Baccalaureate school?
The International Baccalaureate program offers a comprehensive system that addresses staff development, the creation of a coordinated curriculum that integrates learning across disciplines, and an inquiry-based instructional model that is highly engaging for students, Jones said.
The International Baccalaureate program also supports "the growth of the whole child, by addressing social/emotional growth and the ability to work together," Jones said. The new program is similar to the school's current educational mode in that both address the AZ Career and College Readiness Standards, district requirements and using current material resources.
"The way that things are taught and the depth of learning will be some of the biggest changes," Jones said. "The IB embraces an international focus upon understanding the world, our place in it and the interconnectedness of the planet. "
Jones also said that one of the school's new goals as an International Baccalaureate program is for each student to learn a second language.
Origin of the International Baccalaureate program
An international educational foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the International Baccalaureate was founded in 1968 by a group of social studies teachers who wondered, according to Sedona residents Don and Jan Groves, what students ought to know when they are finished with their course work.
"This is the foundation for the development of the IB Diploma Years Program for students ages 16-19, Jan Groves said. "Now, when the students move from one school to another or university, there is no question about what they have been taught and what they know."
The program was expanded in 1994 to include the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program for students ages 11-16, with an International Baccalaureate Primary Year Program, for students through age 11, having been created in 1997.
All International Baccalaureate teachers must be trained to use the IB guidelines which are research "based to share best national and international practices," Jan Groves said.
Both Don Groves who also is on the Board of the Sedona Village Vision Alliance, and Jan Groves have been responsible for seven IB authorizations in U.S. and international schools. Don served as principal or superintendent in the schools, and Jan has served as curriculum coordinator and International Baccalaureate coordinator in four of the schools.
According to Jan, each International Baccalaureate authorization meant "instant recognition and acceptance of an excellent school providing a recognized and respected curriculum for students. This increased enrollment, prestige for the community and provided easy access to other IB schools."
Sedona deserves "an excellent school," said David Gill, vice president of the Sedona Village Vision Alliance, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to community development. "Enrollment has been declining due to the lack of a curriculum. One path to that excellence is to adopt the gold standard of education." The International Baccalaureate's Primary Year Program, or IB PYP for short.
Gill also said that with students on the waiting list to attend Cottonwood's Mountain View Preparatory, the Verde Valley's only other International Baccalaureate school, it would be "logical that this will rebuild enrollment at the Big Park Community School."
A new name? No
"At this point," said Debbie Jones, there are no plans to rename Big Park School. But when the school is fully authorized as an International Baccalaureate, it will receive the additional designation of "IB World School," Gill said.
Though Big Park School's educators are not yet IB-trained, they will begin their own schooling in the fall. Those teachers, Jones said, have a "passion for learning and student growth. They are willing to do the extra work involved in creating an IB program to support the continued growth of the school."
Funding the change
According to Debbie Jones, Big Park School would need to pay a $4,000 administrative fee for the initial application, as well as about $600 to train each teacher. Then beginning next year, the school would need to pay an $8,500 per-year fee to maintain authorization which includes oversight, training and resources from the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO).
Big Park School, according to Jones, is raising the initial funds from community member donations, such as the Sedona Village Vision Alliance, which has raised "about $12,000," to help fund the program, said Amadeus Larew, president of the Big Park Regional Coordinating Council
Big Park Regional Coordinating Council has approved a challenge to its 28 members to raise the required balance to fund this project, Larew said.
Said Jones, "It is so valuable to parents and community members to have a viable school with a strong academic and child-centered program here at Big Park that they have been very generous in supporting this endeavor."
Orchestrating the change
Once Big Park's teachers and staff are fully trained, the school will "be implementing the IB practices and helping students achieve at higher levels," Jones said. This is part of that three-year process to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school.
"We will not be official until we go through an authorization process with IBO in 2019," Jones said. "We will not be perfect to start with. It is a lot of work, requiring many hours and practice to be proficient. IB continues to evolve, even after it is well established in a school."
-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42 and on Facebook at @CampVerdeBugle
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