Holmes IB delayed, but principal still determined
LeBrasse hopes to gain community support for implementation in fall ‘05 or ‘06

       Holmes Middle School won't begin an International Baccalaureate (IB) program for the 2004-05 school year, or possibly even 2005-06, but in no way does that mean the idea is dead.
       Principal Brenda LeBrasse won District 11 administration support for a staff trip to a Salt Lake City IB training seminar over spring break, and came back more convinced than ever that IB is the way to “expand teaching efforts” at Holmes.
       LeBrasse's goal now is to get started in 2005-06; however, she told the Westside Pioneer, she also understands that funding and training issues could make it slide another year.
       In any case, she expects to bring her proposal to the Board of Education next fall, she said.
       Her original goal was to start IB this fall, beginning with an all-sixth-grade IB program, then have grades 6 and 7 the next year and the whole school (6-8) the year after that.
       But the board recently decided to put a one-year moratorium on new “magnet” programs - such as a Holmes IB - for the coming school year, according to district spokesperson Elaine Naleski.
       Complicating matters, LeBrasse noted, is that District 11 is moving to a “site-based” system by which individual schools will begin getting 100 percent of the FTE (“full-time equivalent” money for students attending their schools), “and we aren't far enough along (in understanding that system) to know how much is coming to us in order to make real clear decisions.”
       IB is an “inquiry-based” instructional strategy, in which students essentially learn by seeking answers to their own questions. But there are costs associated with having IB, largely to meet teacher training and curriculum requirements of the International Baccalaureate Organization, which oversees such programs worldwide.
       In addition to public monies, LeBrasse said she will explore grant opportunities to cover costs.
       En route to developing her proposal for the school board, she also hopes to build support from the community, staff and students. An informal survey of fifth-grade parents earlier this year showed 77 in favor, 29 opposed and 3 saying they needed more information.
       “So we definitely need to educate people about it,” LeBrasse said.
       One thing she wants people to understand is that her program “won't be like North's.” North, the only middle school currently offering IB in District 11, offers IB to selected students. Holmes, on the other hand, would have a “whole-school” IB that would be available to all students - even those in special education.
       “We don't want certain students set aside from others,” LeBrasse said.
       LeBrasse also wants the community to know that the difference in teaching won't be that radical with an IB program. Aspects of such strategies already occur at Holmes, including community service, a team effort and (with many teachers) the inquiry-based approach, she said.
       She realizes certain issues need to be resolved, such as fitting IB with existing performance-related programs at the school. Discussions on that subject are already taking place, she said.
       Another issue is the high school path for students. She said she's talked to Coronado - for which Holmes is a feeder school - and thinks it would be a good fit because of its early-college program, although Coronado is not an IB school. She said she plans to talk to Palmer, the only IB high school (though not the whole-school type) in the district.
       LeBrasse also responded to the question of why Holmes, one of the district's highest performing middle schools, should have a magnet program - one that would attract students from other schools or districts - when it is at capacity now with the help of students it already draws from the West and North attendance areas. “We're not thinking of it like a magnet,” she said. “We're looking at how we can get better. This came up in our (staff) discussions. One person said, 'We're already good,” then another said, 'But we can get better.'”
       She added, however, that she does not want to “promote my program at the expense of another school.”
       The Salt Lake City trip, including 12 staffers and herself, was described by LeBrasse as part of an “investigative phase” to help the school get a better idea about how IB could work at Holmes.
       For a while in February and March, the trip had looked like a no-go because district administrators weren't sure they favored the concept of a Holmes IB program. However, school board member Mary Wierman talked to LeBrasse, then convinced School Superintendent Dr. Norm Ridder to allow the trip to occur. The cost was covered by school funds, LeBrasse said.

Westside Pioneer Article