Groton gears up for IB Middle Years Programme candidacy

Groton — Cutler Middle School Principal Peter Bass is excited for students to improve real-world connections in their learning, to become more active learners and to gain global perspectives. Superintendent Michael Graner is excited for students to learn how they learn best, and to take a more inquiry-based approach.

These are their visions if Groton is accepted into the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme. The Board of Education on Monday approved the filing of the district's MYP candidacy application.

"In this age of magnet schools, I think this helps us to further distinguish ourselves in a beneficial light for the area," Bass said. He added that it will "make us even more attractive to people thinking about the town of Groton as a residence, as General Dynamics continues to expand its workforce. We want to be someplace that parents want to raise their kids."

So what is International Baccalaureate, and what is the Middle Years Programme?

IB was formulated in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland, "for kids of diplomats, so they would have sort of a universal degree," explained Kelley Donovan, IB Diploma Coordinator for Fitch High School. "They'd have some sort of documentation that proved they learned what they said they learned."

Fitch was accepted into the International Baccalaureate Organization in 2000 and began offering the IB Diploma Programme curriculum in 2002, making it the second public school in the state to do so.

Graner hopes that Groton can someday become the first district in the state to offer IB for kindergarten through 12th grade. But first it needs approval for the MYP, which is for students in grades 6 to 10.

MYP requires that each of eight subject groups be taught for at least 50 hours per year: language acquisition, language and literature, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical and health education, and design.

"It's a big change. It's a shift for the entire district," Donovan said. "I think it's a great one, or obviously I wouldn't have gotten involved in it."

Graner assured the Board of Education that the MYP designation would not involve the district giving up its instructional autonomy. He described it as an organizational change rather than an alteration of curriculum.

"In terms of the core areas, or academic areas, we'll be well positioned," he said. "I think the challenges will be to make sure that all the children are getting a world language program that leads them to proficiency, and making sure that all of the children get the arts and humanities and that sort of thing."

Another challenge is rearranging schedules to provide the eight subjects and giving teachers the required common planning time.

Graner is hoping that Groton will become an official candidate by January and then undergo a candidacy period. There is a $9,000 fee to apply, Graner said, which will be covered by a federal grant.

His goal is that a verification visit in May of 2019 would allow Cutler and West Side middle schools to each operate as an MYP school for one year before merging in September 2020.

The MYP proposal arose from the Groton 2020 plan, which involves this consolidation.

Next fall, each school will begin operation as an intradistrict magnet school, West Side for STEM and Cutler for arts and humanities. The separate pathways will remain when the schools move to their new site next to Fitch High School.

In April 2016, Graner went to the Board of Education about considering the MYP, and the board approved a feasibility study. Last October, he and some of the school principals went to Miami for training.

Bass said the training convinced him "that MYP is set up to challenge all students, all students from varying backgrounds and skills. It really encompasses all of their needs. It's a challenging framework, and it really helps students make practical connections in their learning, not just learning things in isolation."

Administrators and board members over the next few months visited schools in New Haven and Bloomfield that have implemented the MYP.

Graner planned to make a recommendation in April of this year on the feasibility — both instructionally and financially — of adopting the program but postponed the discussion due to the budget crisis.

But in September, he got some good news: Groton would be receiving a five-year, $4 million grant from the federal Magnet Schools Assistance Program, which will fund MYP teacher training.

"We put all of that training, as well as a coordinator of the program, into the grant," Graner said, "so that's why the board held off, because we wanted to make sure we could actually fund this."

e.moser@theday.com

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