Though newly appointed Bedford School Board Chairman Don Graff stressed the meeting with the New Hampshire legislators had been scheduled a month earlier – to discuss the various bills and proposals that may impact SAU 25 – only one subject was on the minds of those in the overflow crowd of former and current Bedford High School Students, parents and teachers.
And one by one, most took their two- to three-minute turn, some rising from prime front-row realty they found on the SAU 25 meeting room floor, while others squeezed through the crowd that had filled the hallway.
The common message: "Save IB."
Indeed, Bedford is one of two Granite State school districts that currently offer International Baccalaureate (IB) education, a sometimes controversial program that is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland and connected to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
And following a recent 209-102, veto-proof majority vote by the NH House of Representatives, Bedford could be one of two school districts (along with Merrimack Valley) to lose the program should the senate approve the legislation.
House Bill 1403, which Bedford SB vice chairman Terry Wolf said originally called for a students and parents to choose the school district they'd like to attend, was amended prior to the vote to say, in part:
“In continuing recognition of the duty to provide public school pupils with fundamental knowledge and learning as established by the New Hampshire Constitution and the Constitution of the United States of America, a public school or public academy shall be deemed to meet school approval standards only if the curriculum and instruction of the school or academy promotes state and national sovereignty and is not subject to the governance of a foreign body or organization. Proof of governance of a foreign body or organization may be demonstrated in several ways, including, but not limited to:
- Use of a specific name to promote the school, such as “world school;” or
- Required inspections or visits to ensure compliance with programs, rules, or polices of the foreign body or organization; or
- A requirement that arbitration of disputes relating to the implementation of any program be conducted outside of the State of New Hampshire, or be settled by, or in accordance with, any source of legal authority other than state or federal law.“
IB, currently in its fourth year at Bedford High School, certainly qualifies for elimination under those standards.
Wolf began the discussion by explaining the program had been thoroughly vetted by the school board and high school curriculum committee from 2005 through 2007.
IB was supported by the committee by a 12-0 vote. It then survived various school board discussions and budget cuts, again, with unanimous support.
"All the research we put in is what local support is all about," said SB member Cindy Chagnon, who explained the U.S. Dept. of Defense and President George W. Bush also have thrown support behind the program. "It's been vetted, and vetted and vetted again ... and the results back our perception, that our district is exceeding global standards.
"You can find website all over the place that attack IB, but they don't know how it's implemented (in Bedford)," she continued. "What bothers me is this whole concept, I don't think enough research has been done on the state level that they can come and take the authority away from our schools at the local level."
Rep. Ken Hawkins (R-Bedford) – who attended the meeting along with fellow House Republicans Keith Murphy and John Graham and District 9 Sen. Ray White (R) – explained the House typically relies on the recommendation of its various committees and subcommittees due to time constraints associated with researching the many bills up for consideration.
"I wish this bill had an effective date of July 1 of next year so we had more time ... but, as most of you are well aware, 99.9 percent of the time how the committee votes is how the House votes.
"I will say that two people contacted me in favor of this program, while more than 100 contacted me letting me know they were against it," Hawkins continued. "When I'm out there talking to people and I'm getting a 100-1 response against the program, well I'm sorry, but sometimes I have to go with what my constituents call for."
Graff explained the problem was that the original, pre-amended, bill didn't seem to threaten the IB program, a notion the other four board members echoed.
"This one really snuck up on us," said Chagnon.
"I, for one, learned my lesson," said Wolf. "We need to be more vigilant. As you know, we only have so much time, but we clearly need to pay closer attention to these things going forward."
White said he has faith the NH Senate Education Committee will thoroughly research the bill and arrive at a proper conclusion.
Should the bill be changed on the senate floor, White said the House and Senate will have to come to an agreement prior to its passing and being delivered to Gov. John Lynch for approval or veto.
Once public comment began, it was clear that the overwhelming majority of those in attendance supported the IB program in Bedford.
Many parents said they moved to town because of the high education standards, including the IB program, offered by SAU 25.
"It boggles my mind that legislators can talk to a few constituents and then turn and go against all the time and research this district has put in," said Willam Kassler. "I mean, what type of math is that? I suspect if (the legislators) went through the IB program, the math would make more sense."
Sue Thomas said she was on the school board that approved the program. Though skeptical at first, she said she was quickly won over after researching the program thoroughly.
"When we first looked at the IB program, we were building the high school, which was a battle in itself, and then we decided we were going to try something new, and boy did we talk about it," said Thomas. "Now, I'm over at the high school often and I've had the opportunity to meet with a lot of the kids and get to know the teachers, and let me tell you, this was the best decision we've made. I hope it stays that way."
Current and past students lauded the merits of the program and spoke of their positive experience and the tools they've gained and utilized at both the high school and college level.
Former BHS student Harrison Potter, for example, said he attends a top-25 university and stepped onto campus with more college credit than the school would accept.
"In other words, I was almost two semesters ahead of other students," said Potter, who noted his two preliminary college English courses were waved and he was allowed to take sophomore anthropology (his major) courses as a freshman, classes in which he received A's. "To be honest, my content grasp was weaker than other students, but what made me stronger is I knew how to learn, something sorely lacking in in my peers who I've spoken with, and what they don't understand is how they, personally, learn. That's something IB provides."
Still, not everyone in attendance supported the program. Joleen Worden, a fiscal conservative, cited the excessive cost of the program, in comparison to AP classes, as IBs biggest downside.
"The IB program has nothing to do with the successes of Bedford students," she said, explaining that wealthier school districts typically fair better on assessment testing and other similar measures.
She used Bow High School as an example. George Edwards, who opened Bedford High School as principal, had come from Bow where the IB program failed to earn approval. Yet the district, like Bedford, still ranks in the top six in the state.
She added that a recent article in U.S. News and World Report ranked the top 100 high schools in the United States, noting 13 of those schools used IB, 10 of which also have AP programs in place. Only two of those schools, she said, has IB as their primary advanced program.
She also pointed out that no New Hampshire schools were on the list, and said that even the two schools that labeled themselves "international" didn't use IB.
Superintendent Tim Mayes said a hearing with the NH Senate Education Committee has been tentatively scheduled for May 1. Bedford Patch will follow this story as it develops and keep you up to date on the exact time and location of the hearing.