2019 | Schools

MCPS Outlines Plan To Increase Access to ‘Choice Programs’

Schools will roll out more regional IB programs, modify Edison tech model

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The Montgomery County Board of Education met last week in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

The Montgomery school system is preparing a framework to expand access to regional “choice programs” as part of efforts to increase access to non-traditional high school coursework.

In a report to the Board of Education last week, school system staff said they have a plan to duplicate a career readiness program at Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Wheaton and Richard Montgomery High School’s International Baccalaureate program, both specialty programs for students who need “more challenging” classes or for those who won’t go to college.

Unlike other IB programs in Montgomery schools, Richard Montgomery’s model allows students from around the county to apply for its program, which separates students into their own “cohort,” attending specialized classes together throughout high school. Richard Montgomery’s IB program is regarded across the state as one of the best for the specialized degree program that provides internationally-standardized education.

Roughly 1,000 students apply each year for about 100 seats in the school’s IB program.

In response to the demand for IB programming and the Richard Montgomery High School model, the school system will expand the program to three additional high schools with existing IB programs – Watkins Mill, John F. Kennedy and Springbrook – potentially tripling the number of available seats, beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year.

“To say world has changed (in recent years) is an understatement,” said Scott Murphy, director of the school system’s Department of Secondary Curriculum and Districtwide Programs. “In 2019, it’s a different world and we are compelled to change how we think about high school programs.”

Every county high school offers a selection of career programs but state requirements for space, work-based experience and equipment limit many individual schools from offering more than a few programs at each location, according to school system staff. Additionally, individual schools usually don’t yield enough students to offer a full-time program.

So, instead, the system offers countywide access to 18 career programs part-time at Edison, and in the coming years, school leaders hope to “streamline” programs, creating a model in which students from across the county could take full-time classes at the school, or choose to attend adjacent Wheaton High and take some classes at Edison.

Currently, students take classes part-time at Edison and are bused between their “home” schools each day.

The same concept will be implemented at Seneca Valley High School, where the school district plans to replicate the Edison model. Seneca Valley, in Germantown, is slated to undergo a $7.5 million expansion and renovation that will double its maximum capacity and make it the largest high school campus in Maryland.

Part of a systemwide shift in thinking about post-high school opportunities, both changes would align with a push by Superintendent Jack Smith to expand students’ access to both college and career readiness opportunities.

Smith, in his third year leading the state’s largest school system, began exploring ways to diversify and allow more “traditionally underrepresented student populations” immediately, according to school staff.

“We want to stress our commitment … around providing all students, particularly students impacted by poverty with opportunities that enrich and expand access to learning,” Murphy said.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com