OGDEN — The Ogden School District is moving forward in its pursuit of being the first district in the state to offer the full continuum — starting in kindergarten and ending with a high school diploma — of the International Baccalaureate program.

At a meeting Thursday night, the school board gave its stamp of approval, allowing the district to move on to the next step in taking IB to Mount Ogden Junior High School and T.O. Smith Elementary School.

“We’ve done our homework in this space. I really feel that moving in this direction could be a very positive thing for the youth of Ogden, and creating opportunities to where we have greater diversity in program, and greater opportunity among our students of all backgrounds,” Superintendent Rich Nye said at the meeting.

The Ogden School District has offered the IB diploma program at Ogden High School for nearly 10 years and is in its first year of administering the IB career-related program at the school. Expanding IB to two of Ogden High’s feeder schools is something the district has been exploring for the last 11 months, according to Assistant Superintendent Chad Carpenter.

A team of administrators and educators, including Mount Ogden and T.O. Smith principals Cynthia Smith and Keeli Espinoza, assessed “everything from cost, to training, student outcomes — really the entire gamut of what this would take,” Carpenter said.

The district first presented the concept to the school board in February, prior to holding two open houses for parents an other stakeholders to attend to gain a better understanding of the IB program. Following those events, the district polled attendees to get a grasp of their level of support for the move.

A majority of those surveyed, 73.3%, said they were “very satisfied” with the proposal to expand IB, while 13.3% responded they were “somewhat satisfied” and 13.3% were “not satisfied.”

One attendee wrote in the questionnaire, “I would like to know if this will be supported long-term. I have seen great ideas come up, but they seem to fizzle out… So will this program fizzle out or is it something the district is really devoted to and not just the next grand idea?”

Although the program’s expansion intends to achieve lofty goals, the district won’t just be accountable to parents in its efforts to implement IB — the IB organization itself will oversee implementation. And now that the school board has given the go ahead, the district will move from the exploratory phase to the consideration phase, meaning it will prepare and submit an application to IB to begin administering the program at Mount Ogden Junior High and T.O. Smith Elementary in the fall.

“There’s another set of eyes, so to speak — an organization that would come in and ensure that we do have those things in place. That’s the International Baccalaureate organization,” Carpenter said.

Starting children in the IB program at a younger age is meant to achieve multiple results, but primarily prepare students to take on more challenging courses in high school and improve the academic outcomes of students from marginalized backgrounds. Citing the execution of the program in Chicago Public Schools — which is primarily comprised of students of color from economically disadvantaged households — Carpenter said the program can contribute to the district’s trend of increasing graduation rates and college readiness.

“It’s not just an elite program for affluent schools, but really about half of all IB schools are Title I, and also in schools where they’ve had a history of low performance,” he noted.

Like most of the schools in Ogden School District, both Mount Ogden Junior High and T.O. Smith Elementary are Title I schools. Smith, the principal at Mount Ogden, said that equity challenges more than anything else have created a learning gap at her school.

“We know that to be able to address that learning gap, one of the most important things that we need to do is to create ways for our students to access that rigorous instruction and learning that they deserve and they need,” Smith told the board, saying the IB program can do that.

The achievement gap at Mount Ogden Junior High carries over to Ogden High, where the current senior cohort of the diploma program, set to graduate in 2021, is 77% white, 15% Asian, 7% Hispanic and 15% identifying as multiracial.

Those numbers starkly contrast with districtwide demographics. According to state enrollment data, in the Ogden School District 50.9% of students are Hispanic, 41.7% are white, 3% are multiracial, 2% are Black, 0.8% are American Indian, 0.7% are Asian and 0.5% are Pacific Islander. By extending IB to Mount Ogden and T.O. Smith, where the whole school will be enrolled in the program, the district hopes to make it more accessible and inclusive while also preparing students to find success in high school.

“That’s what I’m really excited about as far as the (Middle Year Program) and (Primary Year Program) goes is that focus (on the love of learning) from the beginning right at those elementary levels and the ability to continue on with that, so by the time they get to high school that’s instilled in them and it continues, and then we can take them to that next level,” said Ogden High Assistant Principal Heather Gerrard.

According to a press release from the Ogden School District, it will now begin scheduling IB training for teachers at Mount Ogden Junior High and T.O. Smith Elementary as they prepare to implement the program in the fall. Over the next eight years, the cost of the program — the majority of which covers educators’ training — is expected to total $257,021.

Contact reporter Emily Anderson at eanderson@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @emilyreanderson.

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