A consultant has recommended that the Missoula County Public Schools district consider implementing the International Baccalaureate program across the district, and not just at Hellgate High School.
That recommendation is food for thought for MCPS administrators, who have planned all along to begin the IB program and its rigorous curriculum at Hellgate, then possibly expand it to other schools.
"The next step is for us to discuss that," said MCPS board president Toni Rehbein. "The procedure will be, we'll work with (Superintendent Alex) Apostle and his cabinet, the board and the staff."
The internationally recognized program gives students an opportunity to take advanced classes in every subject area, with an intense emphasis on creative and critical thinking.
Many students who graduate with an IB-certified diploma are awarded college credit, admitted automatically into honors programs in college, or even allowed to skip their entire freshman year altogether.
The program has been pursued by Apostle and the district for the last two years, and is scheduled to be offered at Hellgate starting in the fall of 2012.
Earlier this week, a consultant with the program visited MCPS and told teachers and administrators that limiting its curriculum to Hellgate could deny students at other high schools an educational opportunity.
"What he said is that our commitment is there, but essentially we need to look at how we want to serve this out conceptually," said Rehbein.
Yet applying for and getting IB certification happens on a school-by-school basis - not a district-wide one - and is not inexpensive.
Annual fees for the program are around $10,000 per year per school, paid only after lengthy and expensive training for teachers to themselves become IB-certified.
When implemented, Hellgate's IB program will be only the second in the state. The first public school to offer it is Flathead High School, where it's been part of the curriculum for the last six years.
Kelli Higgins, the International Baccalaureate coordinator for Flathead, said the costs are more than worth it for the district, and the students who pay around $700 for the two-year coursework.
"Our students come back from college telling us they were fully prepared for school," she said.
Montana State University actively recruits IB students in Kalispell she said, though UM also offers some credits for IB courses.
But the most important facet of the program is not the college credit it awards, but the skill of critical thinking.
"We really try to make the focus not on the college credit, though that's a perk," Higgins said. "A student is taught to think and criticize and analyze in a way that they don't get in regular classes."
Rehbein said the recommendation will be taken under advisement, but that it will not stop MCPS from adopting and implementing the program.
"Everything is going forward," she said.
Reach reporter Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at email@example.com.