Friday, June 1, 2007

SBISD Educational Improvements

District Charter Schools & Academies 
Long before charter schools headlined the news, the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees established district-operated charter schools to provide more choices to students and parents and to improve student learning. As with all major decisions like this, advisory committees composed of administrators, parents, teachers and community members helped shape the focus of each school.

SBISD currently operates two district charter schools: Cornerstone Academy for grades 6-8 and Westchester Academy for International Studies for grades 6-12. Both feature smaller learning environments and are so popular that they have wait lists. In fact, it was the popularity of Cornerstone that brought about the opening of Westchester.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme
When Westchester Academy for International Studies was under development, members of the advisory planning committee wanted to offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. The committee reasoned it could meet the needs of the many families who move to Houston from overseas, particularly with the energy companies headquartered here. What the advisory committee soon learned is that the authorization process to become an IB World School takes several years. It includes special teacher training and a site visit by the International Baccalaureate. As a result, this goal became a long-term one for the school to achieve.

Amazingly, when SBISD launched the IB program at Westchester Academy in 2005-06, it was only the second public school district in Houston to offer this program. Since then other area school districts have added IB programs. While the IB program is not a requirement for graduation from Westchester, students are encouraged to consider it. They receive course selection guidance when entering 6th grade to help them make the decision to enter the program as high school juniors.

IB’s interdisciplinary approach to learning challenges students to explore subjects with intellectual depth and rigor. Students carry a full load of college-level courses including Eu- ropean history, English, advanced biology and chemistry, calculus and fourth and fifth years of foreign language. The program is noted for long essays, even in subjects like math and science.

As expected, the IB program has been well received. It advances the SBISD goal to be Texas’ premier college-focused district. Nearly one-third of the Westchester Academy Class of 2007 received IB diplomas. Not a week goes by without the school director receiving an enrollment inquiry from an international family that plans to move to Houston. 

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