By Sally Absher

Led by newly instated BOE members, the Knox County Board of Education members hit the pause button on the approval of a $781,920 “International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP) proposed for Bearden Middle and West High schools.

The board instead voted 6-3 to delay a decision, to allow more time to research and review the program and consider the financial and logistical implications.

The IB MYP is a “whole school initiative that spans grades 6-10; encourages students to become creative, critical, and reflective thinkers; emphasizes intellectual challenge and connections between school and the real world; and fosters the development of skills for communication, intercultural understanding, and global engagement.”

At Monday’s Work Session meeting, the BOE was given a presentation on the proposed MYP. This was the first time the new BOE members heard the details of this program, and understandably, there were a number of questions raised.

So many that the following day, BMS and WHS parent Virginia Babb sent an email out through the BMS PTA email system with the following message:

“Our BMS Principal, Ms. Winstead, and West High School Principal, Ms. Banner, went before the work session of the Knox County Board of Education on Monday night to explain the program in hopes of getting it approved at Wednesday’s KCS board meeting (October 1, 5:00 pm City/County Building). There are many new board members on the school board and after Monday’s session, there did not seem to have the support from the school board to get the approval needed for this program to move forward.

WE NEED YOU TO LET ALL OUR SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS KNOW THAT YOU SUPPORT THIS PROGRAM! Please immediately write to ALL the school board members — it is best to write 1 email that is sent to all 9 school board members (all their emails are at the bottom of this email). Below, I am providing you some information about the IB MYP program so that you can send knowledgeable emails. Please look over these points and write a meaningful personal email from you — please have your spouse, friends, etc also write.”

You must admit the BMS PTA is organized. They even provided the approved talking points. And they had their supporters out in force at the BOE meeting on Wednesday. Sixteen speakers, including students, teachers, and parents, gave speeches in support of the program.

Proponents spoke of better college recruitment, scholarship, and career opportunities with an IB background. Words and phrases like “rigor,” “robust,” “critical thinking,” “project-based learning,” “internationally proven,” and “global citizen” were heard repeatedly.

If it sounds familiar, these are the same words and phrases used to promote Common Core.

The new board members, who campaigned on a platform of researching issues and making informed decisions, said they weren’t necessarily against the program, but needed more time to review it, especially since the decision could have a significant impact on the KCS budget.

Amber Rountree said she had requested the number of tier 2 and tier 3 RTI2 (response to instruction and intervention) students at BMS, but they had not had time to respond by Wednesday’s meeting.  Her concern is these students would not participate in some of the integral parts of the MYP, such as foreign language.

John Fugate complimented the “lobbyists for the IB program” but said, “We would love to have a lot of frills and extra things, but we’ve got to pay for what we can afford to pay for … so think about the students in all areas of this county that would like to participate and gain an edge in some of the areas that they would like to have.” He  mentioned agricultural programs, for one.

Terry Hill said the emails she received had “nothing but praise about BMS,” which she said, “tells me that already, whether anything else is done there or not, that we are looking at a great school with great programs.”

She said she would also like to research the issue of space at BMS. There would be around 1350 students after magnet transfers, which she feared could push it as far as functional capacity. She asked for clarification on the move from 5 periods a day to 6, and on how the proposed eight classes for BMS students would be scheduled.

Patti Bounds said as an educator, she supports the concept of a MYP at BMS, but said she received an email from a parent who lamented that not having 1 to 1 ratio of textbooks at her child’s school produced great anxiety in her daughter.

She said the most compelling concern for her, was that the presentation of this program was only given to the BOE on Monday. She expressed concern that she had not had adequate time to research and study this, a concern echoed by Hill and Rountree.

Karen Carson chastised them, saying “This information came out on Thursday, not Monday…when I get an agenda on Thursday I look through it, and if I have questions, I’m on the phone Friday with someone in the school administration asking for more information.”

Carson, along with Lynne Fugate, Doug Harris, and Gloria Deathridge, were more willing to approve the resolution without question, and minimized concerns about cost. Lynn Fugate said “Sometimes we just have to take a leap of faith….we didn’t have the money for the L&N Stem Academy, but we took a leap of faith, and we found the money.

Fugate said she appreciates the concerns, and said, “If we need to study this more…go back and crunch numbers more, then let’s do that, but please, don’t send the signal that we don’t want this.” Harris repeated his standard “we need more funding” speech.

The problem is not the money, or the intent of the IB MYP. Every middle school child should have the opportunity to take a foreign language – most of us did when we were in middle school. And Knox County agreed to “rigorous” standards that promoted “critical thinking” and “cross-curricular aspects” when Tennessee adopted Common Core.

Is it right to pay nearly $1M for kids in one district and a few hundred transfers from surrounding schools to get the instruction they are already supposed to be getting? The combined MYP and high school IB Degree Program (DP) would include less than 2,800 (5%) of total Knox County Students.

Currently, there are 30 students in the IB diploma program and 212 in IB certificate classes at West.

According to the presentation given during the Work Session, the proposed metric of 50 transfers per grade to BMS would make this program available to an average of 3.8 students per grade from each of the 13 surrounding middle schools.

The same metric applies to transfers to West High school.  Not counting the “magnet” and “alternative” high schools, there are 10 surrounding high schools, for an average of 5 kids per grade from each. But 25 of the 50 spots are reserved for non-zone MYP students, so only half as many transfers from the non-zone high schools would be admitted.

And, only 70% of BMS students are zoned for West. The rest are zoned for Bearden, Karns, or Fulton. The average 8th grade class of 450 could have around 135 students who are not zoned for West. WHS reserved 25 spots per grade for non-zone MYP students. What about the other 110 students, who enroll in BMS MYP anticipating they will be attending WHS?

Last week’s Focus included the results of a poll showing that Dr. McIntyre’s approval rating is upside down in every District except the 4th District. McIntyre, and his biggest supporters, live in the 4th District. Those who don’t send their kids to private school like to believe their kids are the best and the brightest. Undoubtedly, some of them are.

The 4th District is also home to BMS and WHS. Is the IB MYP payback to McIntyre’s loyal supporters in the 4th District? Carson told the board that this program was “teacher-driven initiative.” Lynne Fugate more accurately called it “parent initiated.”

There has long been a two tier educational system – private schools, and public schools. Now we run a very real risk of creating a two tier educational system WITHIN the public schools, with some kids privy to an exclusive educational program based on where they live. This is unequal educational opportunity.

How is this Excellence for Every Child?