Budget Cuts Could Drive Successful Program Out Of San Diego Schools
San Diego city schools could lose more than 2,500 teachers and staff next fall thanks to a $122 million budget gap. Eight schools could lose even more – access to a program that has transformed each campus and helped draw honors from state and national organizations.
Sandy Weiner Mattson is like a lot of parents these days. When her daughter was starting school, Mattson thinks she probably spent more time researching Kindergartens than she did finding a law school for herself. After charter schools, magnet schools and private schools Mattson finally decided to visit McKinley Elementary – the neighborhood school just three blocks from their home.
“Everyone was saying you can’t trust your local school," she said. "The realtor we bought our house from said you can’t send your children to the local school. I saw kids more engaged, more excited about learning, more challenged in ways that I didn’t see in most of the other classrooms I was going to and I was like – why can’t we go to our local neighborhood school? And it was really the IB program that sold me.”
IB stands for International Baccalaureate. In 2001, San Diego Unified had only one IB program – at San Diego High. Since 2006 seven more schools have gone through the rigorous authorization process, which can take four or five years in some cases.
Test scores have climbed steadily at each campus and not just among student who traditionally reach the state’s proficiency targets, according to Sue DeVicariis, principal of Kate Sessions Elementary -- another IB school.
“We jumped quite a bit," she said. "We went from 32 percent proficient to 55 percent proficient for English Language Arts for our English learners, and our special ed went from 22- to 66 percent.”
But these successes come at a cost. The schools have to have language teachers, which most district elementary schools don't. They are required to hire coordinators to facilitate the teacher collaboration and development. There are also mandatory trailings and membership fees. San Diego Unified used to have funds dedicated to these extra costs, but after years of cuts the specific funds are gone and money principals could pool from other sources has dried up, too. With more reductions on the horizon the schools are facing stark choices.
“We’ll lose our programs," said DeVicariis. "All of us are without an IB coordinator. I had to fund my coordinator out of my operating budget. So I had to do that at the cost of office staff, school supplies -- everything.”
Julie Martel is the principal at Pacific Beach Middle School. She was instrumental to expanding the program across the district and has seen neighborhood families return to each school – more proof, she believes, that the program is worth paying for.
“It gives schools an identity," she said. "To be something special. And when schools are in a shape where people in the neighborhood don’t want to send their kids, it’s time to do something drastic and it’s time to change whatever that image is. And it means sending teachers away to professional development – it means getting them excited about something rather than the rut that they currently are in.”
You can hear that excitement from Martel’s sixth grade humanities and art teacher Tish Haake who is teaching her students about the Persian War.
“The kids just finished some mythical creatures. Which are really very cool, I love it," she said. "And they did these diaries for China – they pretended like they went back to the days of the Chin where it was a very harsh rule with Shi Huangdi who was a ruler who was very strict and believed in what? Do these guys know?" She asked the question while turning to a nearby table of students. "What did Shi Huangdi believe in?"
One called out - "Legalism."
"Legalism!" Haake responded. "That's right."
Haake calls projects like the mythical creatures and Chinese diaries “so IB” –- students taking concepts from the textbooks and turning them into tangible projects. Martell pointed to the bulletin boards around Haake’s classroom as another example of IB in action.
“Here you have a unit title, 'I Have a Voice.' What Does it Take to Be a Hero?” she said reading from a board. "So as the kids are learning, going through this unit on Greece, she refers back to the unit title and the unit question. You can clearly see what the expectation is during the day.”
But Martel believes the program's success can't be attributed to one or two key components.
“It’s not ten things, it’s not 20 things. It could be 100 different things that make a school successful," she said. "You have to create that team spirit, you have to get everyone in the school behind your vision, that’s what good leaders do. And empower people to be a part of it. And you have a program that’s been around for 40 years and is very successful.”
Without money for required coordinators or trainings the district’s schools up for reauthorization in the fall could lose their IB affiliation. District Superintendent Bill Kowba sent a letter to the International Baccalaureate organization this week asking for lenience in meeting some of the requirements given California’s dire school funding situation.
Earlier this year, principals, parents and others from all of the district’s IB schools started a group called the IB Sustainability Taskforce. They’re hoping to raise $1.5 million to fund the bare minimum IB staff requirements. They’re holding their first program showcase for the city’s business leaders later this month.