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The coming changes to George Washington High School, as told by its principal

This is the second in a three-part series of First Person essays in which members of the George Washington High School community present their takes on the proposed changes to the school’s International Baccalaureate program. Read yesterday’s piece, from a recent graduate of the school, here, and read all of Chalkbeat’s coverage of the proposed changes here. Check back tomorrow for the final installment in the series. 

As scholars at a wonderfully diverse high school, George Washington High School students, along with parents and community members, spent the year working alongside our school leadership to explore what the future will look like for GW through a comprehensive process called Common Ground. The call from students throughout this process has been clear:  Unify GW as one school and raise the bar for all students.

In response to this call, we recently announced a vision to improve our academic program, an important step in making our shared commitment of Futures Unlimited a reality. The vision represents a school-wide effort to ensure all students have access to rigorous, challenging courses across the entire academic program, and to allow the school to continue to champion the highest standards in academics.

Our belief is that each and every classroom at GW can, and will, benefit from increased rigor. In fact, beginning as early as next year, students will notice changes across all of GW’s academic pathways designed to best prepare them for college and career.

For example, resources to support success in Advanced Placement classes will increase, in part, due to GW being named a Colorado Legacy School, a program designed to increase student success in AP programs. The school’s Concurrent Enrollment program for college-level courses and Career and Technical Education pathways will also be expanded.

We have unwavering support from our leadership, faculty and staff to continue and strengthen GW’s state-leading IB Diploma Programme for 11thand 12th grade students, including exploring the option to become an authorized IB Middle Years Programme for grades nine and 10.  The IB Diploma Programme, which covers the last two years of high school, will continue for our juniors and seniors with the same offerings and same rigor we have today.

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, students in GW’s ninth grade will have greater flexibility as to how many pre-IB/Honors courses they take. The following year, we will scale this approach up to 10th grade. The rigor and content of today’s ninth and 10th grade pre-IB courses will not change. While we will open up greater access to these ninth and 10th grade courses to all students who are prepared to take them, these pre-IB courses will stay the same – same rigor, same content, same preparation for the IB Diploma Programme.

Students will have the opportunity at the end of 10th grade to decide whether to enter the IB Diploma Programme, to focus on Advanced Placement courses, to enroll in Concurrent Enrollment college courses, and/or to follow Career and Technical Education pathways. I am proud to implement these changes and maximize the positive impact of GW’s unique diversity by offering more opportunities for students to interact in meaningful ways, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Efforts are currently under way to bring together a working group of students, teachers, school leaders, parents and community members to identify what needs to happen to make these changes a success and our collective vision—seen through the eyes of our students—a reality. Our goal is not only to raise the bar and be one GW united, but also to strengthen GW as an outstanding neighborhood school to serve students in our community and across Denver. Currently, nearly two-thirds of students within our attendance area are choosing to leave our community to attend another school. That is higher than it should be and higher than it is across DPS. A variety of strong academic pathways and rigorous, accessible courses across the entire academic program will help GW students excel and will dramatically improve the educational opportunities available to our entire community.

By connecting and leveraging the backgrounds and experiences of all students, faculty and staff, we will ensure we are one GW united. We look forward to continued collaboration with the GW Patriot community to ensure that changes in our academic curriculum will be successful to prepare all current and future GW students to meet the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.