MONTGOMERY VILLAGE – Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) staff shared details about new models for special academic programs at the high school level, along with plans for changes in the way they communicate about those programs.
Starting in fall 2020, more county students will have improved access to special college-readiness and career-readiness programs.
One program that will have increased access is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program – a rigorous academic course load offered at some county high schools to students accepted through an application process. During the Sept. 10 meeting, central services staff said that beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, three of the county’s eight IB programs would be open to students at nearby high schools to apply, increasing the number of students who have access to the programs. They will serve students from other schools, in addition to educating qualifying students enrolled there, based on their home addresses. The programs will help junior and senior students.
In the fall of 2020, students attending schools in pre-set areas surrounding John F. Kennedy, Watkins Mill and Springbrook High Schools will be able to apply for the program.
Scott Murphy, director of Secondary Curriculum and Districtwide Programs, said that in recent years, having either rigorous high school education in anticipation of college or career education and earning technical skill certifications for a career is not enough to give students an advantage in the professional world. Students will need both college prep and career prep to perform well post-graduation, he said.
In addition to the IB program model changes at some campuses, MCPS will open a new location in which students may enroll in career-readiness programs at Seneca Valley High School in fall 2020. Once MCPS opens its brand-new Seneca Valley High School campus, students interested in the career readiness or technical programs who live in the upcounty area can apply to have a shorter distance to travel to attend the technical courses.
The new campus will offer five categories of course offerings, including healthcare professions; hospitality and tourism management; information technology/cybersecurity; construction management and architecture; and engineering through the Lead the Way project. It will have 125 seats for students to enroll. Seneca Valley is accepting applications up until Nov. 1 for the career-readiness programs.
The special programs require an application – the IB program requires applicants to take a test and complete various other application steps; the new career programs at Seneca Valley will be based on a lottery, staff said.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said he is pleased by the agency’s work to increase access and therefore improve equity of special programs.
“(MCPS) has developed a long-term strategic plan for high school programs and options, building on our strategic efforts to expand access to enriched and accelerated instruction and secure systematic access to high-demand high school programs and prepare students for college and careers,” Smith wrote in a memorandum to the board, dated Sept. 10.
The existing career-readiness program located at Thomas Edison High School of Technology is not a four-year, high school diploma program, so students currently need to travel across the county, back to their home schools to complete the courses not offered at Edison during the school day.
In the fall of 2020, MCPS will establish a partnership between Wheaton High School and Edison, located about one-third of a mile apart from each other on Dalewood Drive in Wheaton and Silver Spring, respectively, so students can attend career-readiness courses and traditional academic courses required for graduation near each other and with the same student cohort. MCPS will start a new, four-year model for students to take both graduation-required courses and the career-readiness courses, through the partnership, beginning in ninth grade.
Similarly, students who choose to enter the career-readiness program at Seneca Valley in ninth grade will then take courses with a four-year cohort of students. The addition of a four-year cohort may help students in the program establish stronger social relationships with peers, according to the Choice study report.
MCPS staff and board members acknowledged during a school choice discussion on May 30 and during the Sept. 10 meeting by the fact that members of the public said they perceive the IB program at Richard Montgomery High School, open to students countywide, to be “better” than the programs at other county high schools. MCPS is introducing a model in which students accepted into specific IB programs would attend the same school all four years, with a cohort of the same students, so they have a stronger feeling of connection to their schools.
Board Member Jeanette Dixon said she supported the idea of the four-year cohort, adding that she recalled it is one way that last year’s student member of the board Ananya Tadikonda praised her IB experience at Richard Montgomery High School. Dixon said Tadikonda had said that attending the same school for four years and having a supportive atmosphere in which staff encourages students to challenge themselves contributed to her positive experience.
At the end of the Sept. 10 discussion, board members voted to unanimously to approve the expansion of the IB diploma program, which MCPS first established in 1987, by creating the regional schools at the three campuses mentioned earlier.
During the past few months, MCPS staff have been finalizing the first phase of their plan to expand access to special programs at the high school level. Those changes follow an MCPS-contracted study by Metis Associates presented to the board of education Mar. 8, 2016. The study found inequities in access to special academic programs and school choice, or students attending a school other than their home school to participate in a desired particular program. MCPS has reported that before universal testing, a disproportionate number of pupils in the accelerated programs were white and Asian.
Chief Academic Officer Maria Navarro said that MCPS staff planned a phased communications campaign, so families know before it is time for their students to apply and what programs are available. Phase one of the communications plan involves sending materials to eighth graders and their families, as well as holding evening meetings in which parents and guardians could learn about the programs offered. The meeting would also be live-streamed.
Phase one for communicating the four-year cohort programs is to target and provide materials to eighth graders, who will apply this fall for the following year. Presentations will also include information about all the requirements for applying to the IB program.
Other enhancements to programs include Montgomery College increasing the number of seats for students to enroll in early college, a program co-sponsored by MCPS in which students may enroll in credit-bearing college courses as well as courses required for graduation.