News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


IB program an investment in youth, future of city

Last year, about 90 percent of The University of Alabama's Presidential Scholars were students who had graduated from high school International Baccalaureate programs.

That says a lot about the IB program and its ability to prepare students for the rigors of higher education.

This week, Decatur City Schools became the first state school system north of Birmingham to be accepted into IB's prestigious Diploma Program, which emphasizes critical-thinking skills. At a time when funding and so-called accountability provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act have forced public schools to emphasize test-taking skills and rote learning, IB's Diploma Program prepares students for university by teaching them how to learn and do research rather than memorize facts. The program encourages them to ask challenging questions and to develop a strong sense of identity and culture.

City schools Superintendent Sam Houston and other school officials became interested in bringing the internationally known IB program to the city about five years ago after visiting an IB school in Raleigh, N.C.

After years of research and preparation, school officials approached the city for funding for IB's Primary Years, Middle Years and Diploma programs last year. City officials refused to include funding in its budget. They cut $620,000 requested for IB, math and reading coaches and computer upgrades.

Disappointed but not defeated, school officials came up with funds and went ahead with the rigorous application process for IB's Diploma Program for high school juniors and seniors. Teachers get top training through IB, and must submit to IB evaluation.

Nearly seven months after an IB inspection team visited Decatur and Austin high schools, the IB organization notified the schools of their acceptance in an e-mail Monday.

With up to 10,000 military and civilian jobs being added to Redstone Arsenal as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure process, Decatur now has an advantage over surrounding communities in attracting newcomers as well as business and industry. Quality of schools is one of the top criteria couples consider when looking for a place to live. Decatur has something Huntsville, Athens and Madison don't have: the prestigious IB Diploma Program.

During a recent BRAC recruiting trip to Arlington, Va., where the IB program is offered, city schools' Director of Curriculum Jeanne Payne talked to several families scheduled to relocate. She said parents wanted to know about transferring into Austin and Decatur's programs.

We hope individuals, businesses and industry will step in to financially support the IB program, and make it possible to expand the opportunity to middle and primary schools.

Business leaders know that an investment in education is an investment in the community and in their own future growth and success.

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