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District tries to reassure parents about Largo High IB



Sorry to bring this to y'all late: Pinellas school district officials sought to reassure about 35 parents Tuesday night that the new International Baccalaureate program coming to Largo High would be top notch, well funded and approved on time.

"I have no doubt that we would become an IB program. We have resources set aside to do this," said Bill Lawrence, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "We're already looking ahead."

“We already have two successful IB programs in the district, so adding a third will not be difficult,” said Susan Farias, assistant principal and coordinator of the IB program at St. Petersburg High.

"Once I start something, I do it well," said Largo High principal Marjorie Sundstrom.

Some mid-Pinellas parents are worried because under the district's new student assignment plan, their children are now zoned for the Largo High IB. They will not be able to apply to the long-established IB programs at Palm Harbor University High and St. Petersburg High. (More background on the concerns here.)

Tuesday's meeting at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle was called so district and school officials could answer their questions.

Frustration for parents like Dr. Tracy Fansler, a mother of two St. Petersburg High students and two middle school students, goes beyond how D-rated Largo High looks on paper. She will have to enroll her two youngest in Largo’s IB program while keeping her two oldest enrolled in St. Pete’s IB.

Fansler also noted that since Largo’s IB program has not yet been approved by the IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization), the program will only be considered an “honors option” until approval, a process that could take up to 18 months. “Because I live in the central area, I’m not really applying to an IB program,” said Dr. Fansler. “Mid-county students are forced to go with an honors option.”

Other parents raised questions about the availability of funds to maintain an IB program at Largo, the qualifications of the IB teachers and the possibility of the program not getting approved by IBO.  

“There is over $200,000 in secured funding set aside for new programs such as Largo’s IB,” Lawrence said. “Budget cuts will not affect that money.”

As required by IBO, teachers at Largo must participate in specialized professional development training. Sundstrom said new IB teachers will be hired as the program grows.

Some parents feel this is not enough. “The teachers are not qualified and the graduation rate alone (at Largo) is terrifying,” said Cathy Gautreau, whose daughter is in seventh grade and considering the IB program. “(Because of this), we’re looking at Clearwater Central Catholic.”

During the 2011-2012 school year, IBO will make a decision on whether Largo will be approved. By next spring, Largo hopes to have completed the second part of the application and the verification visit by the IB visiting team, comprised of experienced IB educators.

The purpose of the two-day visit is to ensure the school has met all requirements. It will also assess whether Largo has the resources and tools that make for a successful IB program beyond the general requirements.

Parents asked what would happen to their child if Largo doesn’t receive approval. Sundstrom said there is currently no plan, but the district would try to accommodate.

- Times staff writer Sabrina Rocco

[Last modified: Thursday, January 20, 2011 4:33pm]


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