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Board should pursue advanced curriculum

A Times Editorial
Published February 19, 2006

The Hernando County School District places a great deal of emphasis, and rightly so, on programs that help students who are struggling academically or have other specialized educational needs. From remedial and homebound instruction, to team teaching, to vocational training, the district spends considerable resources to provide assistance to those exceptional students who need it.

Sometimes underappreciated and overlooked are opportunities for students whose exceptional performance has brought them to the other end of the learning spectrum.

That ostensible imbalance may be rectified soon.

On Tuesday the School Board will begin discussions about implementing the International Baccalaureate program. The advanced curriculum, which leads to a world-renowned diploma, will allow the county's brightest and most goal-oriented students to earn an edge in the increasingly competitive realm of higher education. The board should not hesitate to take the first steps to make it happen.

The International Baccalaureate Organization is a nonprofit foundation that began in Geneva, Switzerland. Since its inception in 1968, only 1,700 schools in 122 countries have offered IB diplomas. There are only 58 schools in Florida that participate, and only a handful in the Tampa Bay region.

The IB program began as a way to establish a common curriculum and university credentials for high school students moving from one country to another. The rigorous program, which includes 200 hours of creative projects, activities and community service, is geared toward graduating students with a global perspective on problem-solving and critical thinking.

If they succeed - and many do not due to the demanding course requirements - graduates earn a diploma that is recognized by major universities throughout the world.

Mary Krabel, the Hernando County School District's veteran secondary curriculum specialist, estimates that the program, which would be limited initially to the high school level, could be implemented in 21/2 years, and would enroll about 300 students. It likely would be housed as a school-within-a-school in an existing facility, or perhaps in a new high school scheduled to be built in the next two years.

Like the Advanced Placement program, IB students are rewarded with college credits for their coursework. But IB students are taught to study the connections between major study areas and are required to produce independent research before taking a succession of difficult examinations to earn their college credits.

At a workshop meeting that begins at 2 p.m. Tuesday (televised on BrightHouse cable Channel 14), the board will be asked to authorize the staff of superintendent Wendy Tellone, who wholeheartedly supports the idea, to apply for admission to the IB program. That cost is $4,300. Over the next two years, providing the district meets its commitment to train teachers and purchase the IB textbooks and tests, the board will expend an additional $121,000. After that, there is an annual $8,000 fee to stay current with the organization.

Those costs are reasonable when weighed against the advantages of adding a whole new dimension of learning for the school district's highest-performing students. IB and similar programs are respected by individuals, particularly professionals and business owners, who may be contemplating a move to Hernando County. Even more so than roads, housing and recreational facilities, diverse educational offerings are a deciding factor for those prospective residents.

But, by far, the biggest return on the district's investment of money would be to the taxpayers whose children worked so hard to become better-equipped to make their mark on the world, whether in a faraway land or in our own back yard.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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