Graduates of Holmes High School's International Baccalaureate (IB) program spoke out at Thursday's Covington Board of Education meeting in a last minute effort to save the program from elimination. Next week, the Holmes High School site-based decision making council (SBDC) is expected to approve its elimination.
Though the school board has no control over the decision as it is decided by the SBDC, graduates hoped to persuade the district's leaders to get involved.
"IB is at the center of all my successes," said Colleen Bristow, who shared a personal story of her mother fleeing Hamilton, Ohio with her to get away from her abusive father. They settled in Covington's City Heights housing projects. "The IB program is where I realized my fullest potential. I truly believed that a little black girl from the hood that saw hopelessness all around her could not only hope for a brighter future but could actually make her dreams come true."
"It is an understatement to say that IB prepared me for college, IB actually made the first years of college easy. In IB I was taught exceptional study habits, writing skills and public speaking. I was also taught to challenge myself, as well as, challenge others and to never settle for less." Bristow graduated from Holmes ranked ninth in the class of 1997.
According to its website, the International Baccalaureate program, "works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right."
At Holmes, students earned an IB diploma, a program described by the international organization as preparing students for success in higher education and life in a global society. The intense academic coursework culminates in end-of-the-year tests. Students were admitted into the program based on test scores.
The group of alumni, led by Carrie Cox who graduated from the program in the early 1990's, created a lengthy report and sent it to the media establishing the bases for their arguments. It's titled, "Save the International Baccalaureate Program and Save a Child". The more than forty pages include testimonials from graduates, background on the history of the program, and an open records request seeking information on the program's budget, the funds paid to Gateway Community & Technical College for the district's newer college credit program, the number of students that have taken IB classes since its inception, and details on a $220,000 grant awarded to the high school for the "Holmes 180" program.
"My concern isn't that IB isn't a good fit," said Cox, who said she has taught in the Covington Independent Public Schools district (as did her parents and sister). "It's that you have an administration that doesn't understand what it means to these students."
Holmes principal Dennis Maines defended the program's elimination in an interview with The River City News last week
. He reiterated his points at Thursday's school board meeting. "Our goal at Holmes High School is to ensure that all students are college and career ready," he said. Maines noted that only three seniors will complete the IB program this school year. "This decision is not being made solely on finances."
Holmes junmior Marquis Rice, who has participated in the IB program, also spoke in support of its elimination. "I've been on both sides," said Rice, who said he is ranked number two in the class of 2014. "While the IB program has been valuable, I think it has run its course." Instead of gaining college credit through the IB program, Rice is earning credit through the school's partnership with Gateway College.
That alternative option is not good enough for Tanya Turner who graduated from the program in 1990. "It would just be a tragedy to lump all these kids into a vocational-type program," she said. "Gateway is geared toward a vocational program. They are very limited in their majors. By getting rid of this program, you're telling these kids that they are not worth more than that and they are."
Col Owens who served on the Covington School Board for sixteen years and is chairman of the Kenton County Democratic Party also spoke in support of saving the IB program. His two children graduated from it. "I would encourage caution," he said. "I think this decline in enrollment could be a lack of marketing or a lack of presenting students all the options we have." He said that the program was about more than college credit, it was about the experience and suggested that any decision on the program's future should wait until a new superintendent starts in July. "It seems to me that this is a very big decision to be making now before the new system leadership has a chance to weigh in. There's a lot to lose here. It's a lot easier to lose this program that to set it back up again."
Former Holmes principal and current district administrator Bill Grein offered his perspective. "It's been hard for me, personally," he said, "but I do think times are different than they were ten years ago. The partnerships we have now create a different situation for our students."
Holmes High School SBDC meets January 29 at 4:00PM to vote on the issue.
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
Photo: Entrance to Holmes High School/RCN file