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International Baccalaureate Site Visit Positive, Says BHS

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday November 27, 2007

Extensive interviews, discussions and reviews marked the two-day visit to Berkeley High’s International High School by the International Baccalaureate Organization as part of an application to accredit the program within the institution’s International High School last week. 

School officials and faculty members described the site visit as positive. 

“It went extremely well,” said International High School English teacher Jared Baird. “I was really excited to talk to the team ... They turned out to be very friendly.” 

As a smaller learning community program within the high school, the International High School focuses on international studies. The four-year interdisciplinary curriculum—which began with the ninth-grade in 2006—focuses on global culture, history, artistic expression, and political and economic systems. It now consists of two years, ninth and tenth grade.  

If it is accepted as a member of the International Baccalaureate Organization, the school plans to adopt the organization’s Middle Years Program and Diploma Programme, expanding into grades 11 and 12. Students would transition from the Middle Years Program into the comprehensive Diploma Program after the 10th grade. 

Students will be able either to earn certificates in any of twelve areas of study or to pursue the full IB Diploma with examinations in six subjects. 

All courses from Berkeley International High school will meet the California Content Standards and UC/CSU entrance requirements. 

Based out of Geneva, Switzerland, the International Baccalaureate Organization has programs across 2,145 schools in 125 countries, including seven Bay Area schools. 

The three-member team from New York, Bend, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., said they could not comment about their visit. 

“We are hoping to find out about the accreditation in March,” Baird said. “Right now there are 240 students per class at the freshman and sophomore pre-IB levels. After we get accredited, we hope to get 1,000 students enrolled in International Baccalaureate.” 

Although the program has met with encouragement from many in the school community, some have concerns. 

“It’s great because it’s part of an effort at Berkeley High to break the school down into knowable communities where the students know the teachers and the teachers know the students,” said Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.  

“But as a union leader I worry about sustainability,” she said. “There’s a lot of energy and excitement about the program at first, but the question we need to be asking is how can we sustain the program. If the idea is to articulate the grades and evaluate the program, then it will take a lot of extra time for teachers as well as professional development. If Berkeley High is successful in getting accredited, that’s going to be a significant responsibility for the district and the school board.” 

School board president John Selawsky said that the team had asked questions about curriculum and staff development. 

“I see a lot of positives,” he said. “It’s a great match for Berkeley High. The school has an international cosmopolitan atmosphere which is true of Berkeley as well.”  

Proposed first by Berkeley High’s head of African-American Studies department Robert McKnight and former chair of the history department Doug Powers in 2001, the International Baccalaureate program was reintroduced by principal Jim Slemp as an alternative and partner with Academic Choice in 2005. 

After being approved by the Berkeley Board of Education in 2006, it was included as a part of the school’s lottery system. 

“It wasn’t our first choice since we didn’t know about it when we moved from Connecticut to Berkeley last year but it would have been,” said Angela Price, Berkeley High college councilor and parent of an International High School sophomore. 

“I have been in college preparation for 20 years and read a zillion essays and looked at transcripts from all over the world,” she said. “International Baccalaureate students have always impressed me. They are well rounded and are sensitive to other cultures as well as their own. I don’t want my child to live in a bubble.” 

Baird was busy distributing copies of a short story by South African writer Nadine Gordimer to his Global Literature and Composition class Tuesday. 

“The ninth-grade literature is tied to their history class,” he said. “Right now they are learning about Sub-Saharan Africa. The curriculum is based on best practices and the latest research. In addition to being really challenging, it’s amazingly accessible and built on student choice. It develops skills for post secondary work.” 

Miya Sommers, a sophomore at the International High School, said that the program had been her first choice. 

“I am half-Japanese and I wanted to get a global understanding of the world,” she said while waiting to be interviewed. “You don’t just listen to lectures or take notes like in Academic Choice but get an in-depth thinking of everything. I am learning about England and Africa at the same time.” 

Berkeley High School teachers are sent to attend workshops in Texas, Los Angeles and Georgia for training in the International Baccalaureate program. 

“The curriculum is modeled after the English system,” said Berkeley High science department co-head Aaron Glimme, who will teach chemistry to International Baccalaureate students. “A lot of work is graded by the teachers and then sent to the organization. The IB standard for chemistry is different from AP level courses. IB courses are broader and have more organic chemistry whereas AP is more focused and doesn’t cover as many topics. As a result teachers have to adapt to a different set of material.” 

Glimme, who was trained to teach the International Baccalaureate program in New Mexico, said that the site team had been pleased with the science department.