Plans to open the International Baccalaureate program at Denver’s George Washington High School to more students have taken a major step forward, a committee planning the changes reported Tuesday night.
Although some IB parents and teachers expressed vehement opposition to the plan when it was first floated by Denver Public Schools last spring, consensus is building at the school that major changes to the school’s programming can work for all students, members of the One George steering committee told a crowd of about 100 people in the school’s auditorium.
“We set out to develop pathways that would lead students to college prep, AP, or IB, keeping in mind that we wanted to keep IB intact as a world class opportunity for study but to beef up some of the other programs so they’d have an equivalent level of rigor,” said Suzanne Geimer, George Washington’s long-time IB coordinator.
The consensus plan to revamp the school’s programs represents a marked departure for the school, where a succession of earlier attempts to open the IB program to more students over the years dissipated under intense parental opposition.
For almost 30 years, the IB program at GW has educated a small group of high-performing students and sent many of them off to some of the nation’s most elite colleges. The rigorous four-year program admits students based on grades, test scores, teacher recommendations, and interviews. Freshman and sophomore students in the program take “pre-IB” courses to prepare them for the rigors of the IB Diploma Program, which spans grades 11 and 12 and whose curriculum is set by an international organization.
The school also has non-IB classes, including an Advanced Placement program, which has had a less-than-stellar reputation. On Tuesday, two student speakers described the separation they noticed between IB students and those in non-IB classes.
Under the One George plan, the 9th- and 10-grade Pre-Baccalaureate program would be opened to “qualified” students without any application process. And to gain admission to the IB Diploma Programme, students are “advised” but not necessarily required, as they were in the past, to take a full compliment of Pre-Baccalaureate courses.
The One George plan also includes efforts to build unity in the school and improve student support.
Jose Martinez, named interim principal last summer after former principal Micheal Johnson became a lightning rod for parent discontent over the proposed changes, will stay on for another year to oversee implementation of the changes.
“We recognized early on that in order to achieve our stated goals, [Martinez] agreeing to stay was very important,” said Todd Mackintosh, a GW parent and member of the steering committee. He said Martinez had brought “a sense of optimism and years of experience” to his role. Martinez was a principal coach, leader of diversity programs, and principal in the Jeffco school district before coming to George.
DPS leadership approved the plan earlier this winter. A number of task forces focused on school culture, leadership, the content of the new pathways, and student-centered learning will meet over the course of the next few months.