The embattled Falls Church School Board, tasked with finding almost $1 million in cuts from its FY17 requested budget that resulted from a 4-3 City Council vote last month, Tuesday night heard their school system’s all four principals present an eloquent and impassioned defense of the educational values and effectiveness of the system’s International Baccalaureate program that now runs from kindergarten through the 12 grade. The appeal was to avoid any cuts to personnel or vital components that make the IB program (called Primary Years Program, or PYP, and Middle Years Program, or MYP, in years before high school).
George Mason High School Principal Tyrone Byrd, accompanied by Assistant Principal and IB coordinator Kevin Clark, Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School Principal Ty Harris, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School Principal Robert Palermo and Mt. Daniel Elementary Principal Kathy Halayko and Assistant Principal Erin Kelly took turns in front of a packed house in the audience in telling the seven School Board members what the IB program means for the system, overall, and of the catastrophic consequences of allowing it to diminish.
In a statement on the Falls Church City Public Schools’ website, the International Baccalaureate program is described as “aiming to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. Its programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”
The School Board was not expected to make any major decisions at tonight’s meeting but to come up with a set of options that it would formulate and circulate in the schools and in the community in hopes of deriving a consensus. At tonight’s meeting, a lengthy discussion, for example, took on whether or not to remove one copier from each school for a combined savings of $28,000 a year.
Henderson Middle School Principal Harris eloquently defended the MYP program. “The MYP framework targets openmindedness,” he said. “Students are encouraged to share thoughts, opinions and ideas. They become globally-minded and see value in everything they do beyond themselves. They become more confident in the notion that one right answer is not the only answer. They tackle real world ideas, on climate change and immigration, becoming critical thinkers and problem solvers, developing leadership and teamwork skills. Teachers, too become more confident,” he said. “It forces more collaboration with a consistent framework and we see growth in the skills of the faculty to become like rock stars.”
Harris added, “Let it fall by the wayside, and it will be very hard to get back. It forces middle school and high school teachers to collaborate and advances IB learner profile traits. We live and breathe the MYP fraemwork.”
GMHS Assistant Principal Clark noted the IB program began at Mason High in 1981. It’s helped define “who we want our kids to be, balanced, principled, caring, with a global perspective.” A third of the students actually go for an IB diploma, but the program impacts every kid, not just in the 11th and 12th grades, but K through 12.” He said, “It’s hard work for teachers who must go beyond just what to cover to how to shape a person.”
Harris said that in interviewing currently for three new teachers at MEH, all three mentioned their perceived importance of the MYP and IB programs.
Halayko said the PYP program could be extended to cover pre-school. There’s a curriculum embedded in it that fits in anywhere in the world, she said, and leadership and training are also indispensable components of it.
Palermo said the program instills a global perspective in students “and makes them inquirers.”
Byrd said it is important “to maintain the full continuum of the IB program, “and we need a champion in our building to do that.
Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones credited the Falls Church Education Association with helping contribute funds for professional development and training.
Halayko said that while Standards of Learning (SOL) testing focuses on facts, dates and lists, IB education is “fundamentally different.” She said that for years there had been a desire in Falls Church schools to “develop a common language and conversation, but when the PYP was explored in 2005, “It was what we’d been looking for.”
“How do you quantify this? It is very difficult. But, when you see it, you know it,” she said
“In this, people matter, people who are willing and able to do the job. If they start to leave, you lose experience, continuity and a family member,” he said.
When the four principals with the two assistant principals then walked out of the chamber, they received a very rousing and lengthy ovation.