The International Baccalaureate program, a course of advanced study that seems to have divided the Anne Arundel schools community, has hit a wall.
School board members voted 6-2 last week against expanding the program into a third high school, a strong rebuke to Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who's a staunch advocate of the Swiss program. Rejection means the school system probably will have to turn away some applicants from IB study next year, something Smith said he was loathe to do.
Expanding IB was important to Smith, who advocated the program as superintendent in Charlotte, N.C., before bringing it to Anne Arundel following his arrival in 2002. But he first had to persuade the school board. And, after the contentious events of the summer, the votes just weren't there.
Board members cited a host of reasons for rejecting the expansion of IB from Annapolis and Old Mill high schools into a third, Meade High. But the prevailing view seemed to be that Smith had failed to deliver a long-term plan for the program in Anne Arundel.
"It's not because we don't like IB. It's not because we don't want to expand IB," said Enrique Melendez, who is in his first year on the school board. "There's no path or plan for where they're going."
Smith said he was simply responding to a rising demand for IB -- and for accelerated study in general -- in the county's high schools. He also reminded board members of a goal that he and they mutually agreed to set: that 10 percent of high school students participate in IB by 2007.
"We obviously have the demand, we see it at every level of our school system, and students are responding with huge numbers to every opportunity to increase the rigor and the demand and the expectations," Smith said in an interview a few days before the vote.
Nearly 500 students attend IB and pre-IB courses at Annapolis and Old Mill high schools. Because of the program's popularity, particularly at Old Mill, the system now has at least 52 more applicants than space allows at the two schools, said Christine Amiss, Anne Arundel's IB director.
"I've had a number of phone calls from parents who were disappointed with the decision," Amiss said Tuesday.
Amiss said those interested in IB should persevere with their applications. The deadline is Dec. 1. Parents should know by mid-January whether their children have been accepted. If there are more applicants than spaces, decisions would made by lottery, and rejected students would be placed on a waiting list.
Community support for the IB program was "most impressive" at the decisive Oct. 5 board meeting, Amiss said. In a parade of public speakers, not one spoke against the program.
Smith's proposal had turned into something of a standoff between the superintendent and the board. The superintendent announced his resignation in September, citing a breakdown in relations with the board over a summer audit that found excesses in pay to top administrators. He will leave at Thanksgiving for a job at Harvard University.
At this point, Smith can count on only two votes on the eight-person panel, from longtime supporters Paul Rudolph and Michael Leahy. And two votes was all he got on Oct. 5, when the request got its final review. Smith lost the vote despite the show of support from students, parents and officials.
"I had no reason to vote against it," Rudolph said.
Behind the scenes, parents opposed to IB waged an e-mail campaign to deliver their message. Melendez and other board members reported receiving letters from several parts of the county. IB is set up as a school within a school, with a comparatively small number of students taking college-level classes together, and the arrangement is ever-vulnerable to accusations of elitism and to antipathy from the majority of students who aren't participating.
But Melendez, who visited the IB program at Annapolis High School before making his decision, said the board remains committed to the program and probably will push forward with it in coming years.
"I was very impressed," Melendez said. "It's not quantity, it's quality of knowledge."