DADE CITY — Each year, Pasco Middle School Principal Kim Anderson can count on one hand the number of eighth graders who enroll in International Baccalaureate for high school.
It's not that her school lacks academic high fliers who could succeed with the challenge. The problem, Anderson said, has been proximity to an internationally recognized advanced program: The closest one, Land O'Lakes High's IB unit, sits 25 miles away.
That's about to change.
Pasco Middle and Pasco High have won approval to launch the Cambridge/AICE advanced curriculum and accelerated study method in the fall. The program, developed by the University of Cambridge in England, serves more than 8 million students a year in 160 countries, including schools throughout Florida.
It would be the first of its type in Pasco County.
"They deserve the opportunity to have access to the same higher-level courses that students in other parts of the county have," said School Board member Allen Altman, who has advocated for an advanced academy in east Pasco since his 2006 election. "I wanted some alternative for our students on the east side to be able to take advantage of a rigorous academic program."
In the middle school, Cambridge will look like a preparation sequence, aimed at providing a foundation in both content and learning skills that get kids ready for tough high school courses. Anderson plans to pair it with AVID, an instructional model that helps students improve their study habits, while also increasing expectations and providing added support such as peer tutors.
"It's always a great plan when you can encourage someone who has potential to move forward," Anderson said.
Pasco High will introduce a pre-AICE curriculum for ninth and 10th graders, and then offer the high level Cambridge courses in the upper grades. Students can earn college credits for the courses they complete and pass the Cambridge test. If they take and pass six of the courses and tests, they can earn an AICE diploma that carries benefits including a Bright Futures scholarship at Florida universities.
Unlike IB, though, the Cambridge student can select their six diploma courses from a menu of options, rather than having a set list of requirements. They need only choose one each from the humanities, languages and sciences categories, with the rest coming from any of the three areas.
In another key difference, the Cambridge courses would be open to any student who wants to try them, much like Advanced Placement. Students earn credit for passing a Cambridge test at any level, though, unlike AP exams that carry non-passing scores.
"It's for any kid," Pasco High Principal Kari Kadlub said. "We're not going to put any parameters on it."
The idea is to create Cambridge schools rather than stand-alone entities, as magnet programs often can become.
That's the same philosophy that Pinellas County's Dixie Hollins High School adopted when it established its Cambridge magnet program three years ago. Dixie Hollins Principal Dan Evans said the availability of advanced courses from Cambridge has encouraged students to aim higher, which in turn has boosted the school's overall performance.
In 2008-09, the school had just 67 students take Advanced Placement tests, he said. This year, it expects more than 500 students to take Cambridge or AP tests. (Dixie Hollins slowly is replacing AP with AICE courses as its primary accelerated option.)
"You're talking about a complete culture shift for this school," Evans said.
The program's flexibility in course selection provides the added benefit of being able to combine a Cambridge diploma with an industry certification from one of the school's career academies, Evans said.
Kadlub expects to have the same opportunities for her students as the program develops.
"They're able to still be a part of everything else in the school," she said.
School and district leaders are working out the program details, including course offerings and application process. They expect to have student and parent information sessions later in the fall, once all the specifics are ironed out.
Both programs are expected to start small and expand, with spaces available for students to gain entry from other schools.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.