//Shaker Schools Adopt the International Baccalaureate

Shaker Schools Adopt the International Baccalaureate

The Shaker schools have become the eighth school district in the country, and the first in Greater Cleveland, to offer the International Baccalaureate Programme to every student. What will this mean for Shaker?

By Jennifer Proe
Shaker Heights elementary students learn Chinese through 5th grade

Chinese language instruction is part of the elementary curriculum in the Shaker Schools.

When the Shaker schools became authorized for the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme this past June, the District completed the last step in the process to provide a full continuum of IB Programmes to every student in grades Pre-K through 12. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr., superintendent of the Shaker schools, sees the implementation of IB throughout the District as a natural continuation of Shaker’s mission: “IB really complements and enhances what the Shaker community has always believed in and supported: the arts, world languages, international travel, and critical thinking,” he says. [Note: Hutchings resigned as superintendent in 2018.]

The IB journey, which began more than seven years ago, has required considerable effort and collaboration. Here are just a few examples:

  • Teachers, administrators, staff, and students have embraced a new learning framework and vocabulary, which includes the 10 attributes of the IB Learner Profile (see sidebar at the end of this article for a primer on IB).

  • Teachers engage in more common planning time to create engaging inter-disciplinary units of study.

  • Elementary students begin learning Mandarin Chinese in first grade, in order to expose them to another world language and culture.

  • All fourth graders participate in a capstone group project, called IB Exhibition, to demonstrate deep knowledge and community action on a topic of their choosing.

  • Woodbury students connect art with service in a program called “Woodbury Creates Change,” selling their handmade wares to benefit global and local causes.

  • Middle School students are designing technology-based solutions to make the world a better place.

  • And High School students have more options than ever for rigorous study, adding the elective Diploma Programme to an already extensive list of Advanced Placement offerings.

Will all the hard work pay off? Yes, according to Nikki Woodson, superintendent of Washington Township in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her district officially adopted IB for all students last year, after offering the Diploma Programme for more than 20 years.

“Extraordinary work takes extraordinary effort, but it’s worth it,” says Woodson. “As one of our students described it, IB is like taking the stairs instead of the elevator: it’s harder work, but you will be more fit at the top.”

What Does It Mean to Be an IB District?

IB Exhibition students at Lomond Elementary School.

IB Exhibition students at Lomond Elementary School.

Shaker now joins the ranks of seven other school districts in the U.S. to offer IB district-wide: Hilton Central School District in New York, McAllen Schools in Texas, Oberlin City Schools in Ohio, Oxford Community Schools in Michigan, South Saint Paul Schools in Minnesota, Summit County Schools in Colorado, and Washington Township Schools in Indiana.

The districts are geographically disparate, and vary widely in the populations they serve. Some are urban, some not. The Hilton schools are of a similar size to Shaker, with 4,500 students. The McAllen, Texas schools, on the other hand, serve 30,000 students in 30 schools. The number of students eligible for free or reduced lunch also runs the gamut, from less than a quarter to nearly two-thirds of the student body.

So what is the common thread? What does it mean to be an IB district, and what are the advantages? Barbara Surash, assistant superintendent of the Hilton Central Schools, believes that becoming an IB district has raised the bar on achievement across the board.

“IB is a great framework that allows all of our students to meet high standards,” she says. “It gives stakeholders a common vocabulary and a common purpose.”

What Does IB Mean for Shaker?

Paul Campbell, SHHS ’73, sees IB as the perfect fit for the Shaker schools. Campbell is the head of international outreach services and regional development for the International Baccalaureate Organization. He is intimately familiar with Shaker’s mission, not only as an alumnus, but also as the proud uncle of several recent Shaker grads.

“The Shaker schools have always had a well-deserved reputation for excellence, but equally, they have shown a willingness to change and adapt to meet the needs of successive generations of learners,” says Campbell. “The fact that the Shaker schools have embraced IB at every building is ample evidence of Shaker’s ongoing dedication to innovation and excellence.”

What are some of the innovations or changes that families can expect to see as a result of embracing IB district-wide?

Students performing a science experiment at Shaker Middle School.

Students performing a science experiment at Shaker Middle School.

According to [former] Superintendent Hutchings, students will experience even more project-based learning, with clearly defined learning objectives. Also, more service opportunities will be embedded within the curriculum.

Says Hutchings, “Service is something a lot of parents have expressed an interest in, and we are looking at community partnerships and local organizations to give students the avenue to do this at every grade level.”

What will not be changing is the commitment to offering as much choice as possible to students in their education, which includes a full complement of Advanced Placement courses.

“Advanced Placement is here to stay,” says Hutchings. “The Diploma Programme is one component of the whole IB continuum, and students can opt in, just as they can with Honors or Advanced Placement courses. We’re all about options at Shaker, and this is just another great option available to them.”

Meeting in the Middle

As for the newest link in the chain, the Middle Years Programme for students in grades 5-10, the biggest change will involve teachers working more collaboratively with one another to provide inter-disciplinary learning.

Says Middle School principal David Glasner, “Seventh-grade students engage in an in-depth and inter-disciplinary study of the Silk Road that focuses on their own personal identity and cultural heritage and that requires them to master skills and content across all four core subject areas.”

In addition, all students at the Middle School will now take a semester-long IB Design course, in both seventh and eighth grades, which challenges students to work together using technology to do some creative problem solving.

“In the IB Design course, we expect students to explore green solutions to contemporary issues such as recycling, energy efficiency, and clean water across the globe,” says Glasner. Students will have hands-on opportunities to work with 21st century technologies such as coding, 3-D printing, and robotics.”

Says Woodbury principal Danny Young, “The IB philosophy gives our teachers the teaching practices to ensure we are reaching our core values: namely, that each student is valued, every student must succeed, and diversity makes us stronger.”

Today Shaker, Tomorrow the World

Ultimately, to be an IB district means providing the roadmap for students to become true citizens of the world.

As Onaway principal Amy Davis observes, “When you walk into any [Shaker] classroom, you’ll see deep thinking on a particular topic. It starts with the individual, and then moves out to include a wide variety of viewpoints. The IB inquiry methodology works for all students because it taps into their natural curiosity.”

High School history teacher Tim Mitchell, who coordinates the Diploma Programme, has this to say about students who reach the pinnacle of the IB continuum: “What impresses me is their passion for learning, which goes beyond the academics. They recognize the world beyond Shaker Heights, beyond the United States. They bring an unusual degree of compassion for one another.”

And that, says Superintendent Hutchings, is the goal: “The IB philosophy encourages our students to become self-directed learners and creative problem solvers, as well as to become selfless. It’s all about giving back to our world, not just taking. After our students graduate, they won’t remember every specific lesson for a lifetime we have taught them. It’s the type of learner and citizen they have become that will stay with them for a lifetime.”

An IB Primer

  • Students at Shaker's Woodbury School.

    Students at Shaker’s Woodbury School.

    The International Baccalaureate (IB) program was founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968 as a way to provide a rigorous and holistic education that could be recognized internationally.

  • IB is an educational framework, not a curriculum. “Common Core standards are what we teach; IB is the way we teach,” says superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr.

  • IB is now offered at more than 4,100 schools throughout the world and more than 1,600 schools throughout the U.S.

  • The hallmarks of the IB program are hands-on projects, student-led inquiry, putting community service into action, and a global focus.

  • IB students are encouraged to adopt the 10 attributes of the IB Learner Profile: Inquirer, Knowledgeable, Thinker, Communicator, Principled, Open-minded, Caring, Risk-taker, Balanced, and Reflective.

  • In 2010, Shaker Heights High School became authorized to offer the IB Diploma Programme to students in grades 11-12. Soon after, all five elementary schools became authorized to offer the IB Primary Years Programme for grades Pre-K through 4. In June of 2015, the District received authorization for the Middle Years Programme for students in grades 5-10, completing the IB continuum.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Fall 2015.