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North Allegheny considers adding International Baccalaureate program

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The North Allegheny School District could become one of the few providers of International Baccalaureate programs in Pennsylvania, although leaders say they are in the early stages of writing a comprehensive plan.

International Baccalaureate World Schools, rigorous academic programs of inquiry-based learning, are offered locally in two districts — through the Pittsburgh Public Schools in the Barack Obama Academy for International Studies and in four schools in Upper St. Clair School District — and at Vincentian Academy, a Catholic School in McCandless.

In Pennsylvania, 24 entities offer IB World Schools, but some are in schools within the same district.

IB programs have been the subject of debate over the years because critics object to program content based on a “global perspective.”

North Allegheny officials emphasize that nothing is finalized.

District officials are developing a six-year comprehensive plan that will take effect in the 2014-15 school year, spokeswoman Joy Ed said.

“As part of the planning process for the development of the strategic plan/comprehensive plan, there are several (brainstorming sessions) in which the committee engages. This concept was one of many ideas that was put on the table during one of those sessions,” Ed said in an email.

The Geneva, Switzerland-based International Baccalaureate Organization provides standards and training for teachers. It offers four International Baccalaureate programs: the IB Primary Years Programme, the IB Middle Years Programme, the IB Diploma Programme for high school juniors and seniors and IB Career-related Certificate for juniors and seniors who want to engage in career-related learning.

The IB Diploma Programme, which is the most popular and provides college credit, is offered in 1,873 schools worldwide, IB spokeswoman Robin Khan said. There are 3,629 schools offering one or more IB programs to 1.1 million students worldwide.

Program adoption is growing quickly, as school officials and students recognize the value of global education, Khan said. IB programs areexpected to be in 4,000 schools worldwide by 2014, she said.

North Allegheny has not decided specifics about what it would offer, including grade levels to which it would be made available, Ed said.

The cost is estimated at $60,000 annually for three years to train 50 to 60 people to teach and oversee the program, she said.

“The school board may request a presentation about the IB program — including detail relative to costs, processes, benefits, etc. — later in the 2013-2014 school year,” she said.

Upper St. Clair's IB programs stirred controversy twice between 2006 and 2012.

When critics raised concerns about the programs' cost and globally-based content, Upper St. Clair school directors dropped the programs from all grade levels in 2006. The district reinstated IB several months later when a lawsuit by parents was settled out of court.

In February 2012, IB controversy arose again when the Upper St. Clair board approved converting Streams Elementary School to a full IB curriculum.

“The district has a culture of innovation and keeping current with programs and delivering high-performing school districts,” Superintendent Patrick O'Toole said.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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