School Board to Debate Future of International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Programs

Clarke County students have a lot of options when it comes to selecting the type of educational track that they intend to pursue during their high school education. However, school officials, community organizations, and citizens don’t see eye-to-eye on curriculum emphasis or approaches and are gearing up to debate the mix of college preparation offerings as well as vocational training support.

Clarke County School Board (l-r) Dr. Mike Murphy, Jennifer Welliver, Babara Lee, Robina Bouffault, Emily Rhodes and Janet Alger - Photo Edward Leonard

“We have many advanced educational programs combined with a declining school population and test performance that is not what it should be,” said school board member Robina Bouffault (White Post) at last week’s school board meeting. “We have to look at whether we can afford so many programs.”

After recent testing results from the International Baccalaureate (IB) program revealed poor performance and an overall low diploma achievement rate, the School Board decided to take a closer look at the school division’s advanced course offerings at a special meeting.

While everyone agreed that the problems revealed in the IB program need closer review, not all of the School Board members have the same goals in mind for the meeting’s outcome.

Janet Alger (Russell) initially recommended the review meeting, in what looks to be shaping up as an IB versus Advanced Placement (AP) fight, as an opportunity for School Board members to dialogue with school staff to identify and address the issues that are contributing to poor test scores and low IB diploma completion rates. School Board member Jennifer Welliver (Berryville) has also endorsed the approach.

In recent School Board meetings, both Welliver and Alger have expressed the need for a “workshop” session where School Board members, school administration and school can offer solutions for improving CCPS’s IB performance.

However, Bouffault said last Monday night that she sees the meeting differently.

“We all already have ideas about what the issues are so I don’t think that we need to take up valuable staff time asking them to present us with more research,” Bouffault said. “I think that a two hour meeting is all that we need”.

But while Alger and Welliver see the IB program as an important component of preparing students for college careers after high school, other members of the community are demanding that more attention be given to curriculum deficiencies for students that may not follow a traditional college track.

Chris Bates, a White Post horse breeder, accused the School Board of not showing enough interest in the division’s vocational and agricultural programs. At Monday night’s School Board meeting, Bates scolded the School Board during a public comment period.

“In this document you say that the second of the top three issues voiced by constituents is the need for vocational courses in the high school,” Bates said while waving a 2008 document titled “Position Paper – The New Direction,” which he attributed to the School Board. “Yet there has been a decline in the number of vocational courses. Why do we have only 29 students signed up for Horticulture when we are getting ready to spend $300K on a greenhouse?”

Bates went on to accuse the School Board of losing sight of the needs of agricultural students and the local job market.

“I think that you’ve been spending so much time trying to rebuild public trust in the School Board that you’ve taken your eye of the vocational issues,” Bates continued. “There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for vocational offerings and I hope that you will focus on creating a vocational, technical, and agricultural program that will look like the county wants it to. You need to be expanding the vocational offering by listening to the community.”

After the meeting Bates, who raises Morgan horses on 268 acres near White Post, emphasized that Clarke County is still an agricultural community where not every student will go on to college. He said that it is important to expand the high school’s vocational course offerings in order to meet the needs of non-college bound students. Bates cited six vocational courses that he said have have recently disappeared from the CCHS course listing including equine management and small engine repair.

“The quality of the agricultural classes has dropped,” Bates said. “The number of students enrolled in the vocational courses has also dropped because no one is in charge of the program.”

Bates suggested that the success of CCPS’s DECA program was largely due to the leadership of staff members who are enthusiastic about the subject matter, but said that vocational students lacked similar support.

“If Robin Eddy were in charge of the vocational program we’d have very different results,” Bates said.

However, if there has been a the lack of focus on CCPS’s vocational offerings as Bates has charged, promised support from the agricultural community that, so far, has not materialized, may also be called into question.

In May, 2010 Clarke County Farm Bureau leaders Clay Brumback and Corey Childs pledged to help the school division re-focus a portion of the school curriculum on expanded agricultural education for Clarke County students as well as neighboring districts that have reduced or eliminated agriculture training programs.

Then School Board chairman Robina Bouffault enthusiastically welcomed the farming community’s support and the School Board directed the Farm Bureau to develop an action plan for moving the concept closer to reality. The Farm Bureau, at the time, committed to providing vocational equipment and funding streams through a multiphase development approach.

Over a year later, with the promised vocational action plan and funding nowhere to be found and with no progress on the farmers-schools vocational education collaboration, proponents of college bound programs like IB and AP will likely question the need for expanded vocational study tracks given the agriculture community’s inability to deliver the promised vocational-agriculture guidance.

Asked if the Farm Bureau had dropped the ball on the promised assistance Bates replied; “We’re meeting about that topic tonight.”

The Clarke County School Board will meet on August 29th at 7:00pm in the Johnson Williams Middle School library to discuss the school division’s IB, AP, and Bridge programs.


  1. That’s rich that Mr. Bates would berate a document written by the Robina-chaired school board. The simple thing is that, the past few years, I know of kids who signed up for classes who had to switch because “not enough kids signed up” and so the class was cancelled. I heard there were a whopping 2 in the equine management class.

    I think he also misses the point of the Voc-Ag program when he compares it to DECA (a club) and the business classes taught by Ms. Eddy. Yes, under the guidance of her and Ms. Elson, the business classes (and the DECA club, by extension) have had tremendous success…due in large part because that is nearly all that they do. They don’t have several different classes to teach, whereas the Voc-Ag teachers have to try to cover a lot of varied courses with limited resources. Some of my son’s friends were disappointed to not have more vocational offerings to pick from, but such is the way things are when money and resources are tight. The programs won’t grow if this county won’t put up the money to enable the schools to offer the programs, taught by competent teachers, using the best resources available – or tap into what is available there at Dowell J. Howard. Ain’t going to happen.

  2. Why is this always presented as an either-or dilemma? Any school system should be offering a vibrant program in both academics and vocational arts. It seems to me as if CCPS has tried to offer both. I do not think there is a lack of focus on vocational classes. In addition to DECA, CCHS has a thriving Technology program, a growning Engineering program, and a QUALITY Ag program, to name a few. If students don”t enroll in a class it will not and should not be offered. No school system would continue to pay a teacher to instruct a course with two students enrolled. The small enginge repair and equine management classes were put in the curriculum when this school board took over. The enrollment apparently never materialized so they have been dropped. I believe they call that supply and demand.

    • If Clarke is so firmly committed to the vocational arts why did they chase away the best horticultural instructor in the valley?

      • CCHS student says:

        Beth Novak led an interesting horticulture program. Her students were active and engaged. We will miss her!

  3. Justaskher says:

    Well, has the School Board bothered to ask any recent graduates of CCPS as to what might be included/excluded to a new graduates path to success?

    CDN had a wonderful article on this thiis young woman who-if I’m guessing correcly-will be a household name in 10 years.

    Her comments about her preparation to her university ( and, BTW she coud have chosen from several IVY’s) may be of interest to the board. I’d invite her to speak if I were on the board.

    • Naked Truth says:

      ( and, BTW she coud have chosen from several IVY’s)
      Seriously, If given the choice of “several IV’s”, why would she choose Radford? Nothing against Olivia. I think the comment is a stretch.

      ” poor test scores and low IB diploma completion rates. ”
      I think this sums it up. IB is a waste of time and money. Why do Alger and her shadow keep pushing for this?

      Vo-Tech is more than small engine repair and AG. True most kids will not go to college, and there will always be a need for auto mechanics, plumbers, and hair stylist.

  4. Losing Faith says:

    Clarke County has created a wonderful educational environment for the students, they have many wonderful opportunities with the choice of program they wish to follow. I agree that if there are no students that wish to take the offered course it should not be taught at that time.
    I recently attended the high school’s night where they aided the parents in gaining a partial understanding of the degree programs offered their student. What I was sad not to see was more students attending. A parent can only gain the understanding of what is involved in the programs by this meeting or by speaking to the instructor directly or their child, though pulling information out of a teen at times is like pulling teeth.
    Schools in other states have had college visits where a student can sit in a short, fifteen to thirty minute class, where they can see some of the topic to be covered in the things that interest them. Parents may push their child into a program that will not benefit the child. You never wish to set a child up to fail. Perhaps the school could offer the parents and children a better glance at what they will be taking, before they take it. I understand that CCHS is not a college, yet we are attempting to prepare them for college, and offer quite a few classes that transfer for college credit or are deemed college level.

    A teacher’s job is difficult enough. They must attempt to give the student a full view of a topic that it seems thanks to current times and laws should only be taught by the test booklet. If we as a society seek to lessen our student’s experiences due to low test scores, we are doing them a disservice. We should ensure that the instructors are aware that not all students learn the same, and aid them in gaining the tools they need to help the student learn be it hands-on activities, lectures, group activities, tests, whatever. Too often low tests scores translate into maybe we should not be doing that, rather than what can we do to give them a better understanding of the material. Teach the children how to think, give them the opportunity to learn things of interest and they will soar.

    • Bill Bell says:

      Losing Faith – “Teach the children how to think, give them the opportunity to learn things of interest and they will soar.” Great statement. This is essentially the core value of IB. Yes, the standards are high. No, it is not for everyone.

      School Board – Do not eliminate the IB program-embrace it! One off year after many successful years should not spell its death nill.

  5. Tony Parrott says:

    I have so much to say I can’t find the words.
    In today’s global economy we have to think a little bigger than Clarke Co. when it comes to education. Our children will grow up in a much different world than ours. You will not be competitive with just a HS diploma. Continuing education; college, trade school or apprenticeship will be the norm. I would also argue that to be a good farmer you will most likely have to have an education past HS.

    Now for the IB debate. We must separate the problem with IB test scores from all the other noise. The scores have nothing to do with AP or lack of vocational programs. We have to get past this attitude of “if we don’t make the grade, lower the bar” or remove the program.

    These issues do have one thing in common; funding. If you want to succeed in sending kids to college then fund IB or AP properly and set those expectations from the top down. If you want more vocational opportunities then fund it properly and set those expectations but don’t tell me it’s one or the other because that’s a copout and you are shorting these kids of future opportunity. We have to have both.
    HS diploma means a job today (maybe) but a degree means opportunity for the future. Where do you want your kids to be?

  6. Roscoe Evans says:

    For several centuries, as I understand the History of Religion for Dummies, philosophers debated how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Wars were fought, and churches and nations rose and fell in symphony with the answers to that question.

    Here in Clarke, we have our own parallel debate: How can we give our children a quality education when, despite all of the hubbub about what is better for them, IB, AP, college prep, or vocational ed, absolutely nobody is willing to appropriate and pay enough money even to guarantee adequate and safe buildings for our students.

    I am afraid that I no longer see any good faith in any of these discussions. Warehousing our students in front of minimum wage teachers. That’s what I see as the goal of Clarke’s BOS and BOE.

    Sorry, Tony. But I think the debate has been over for years now.