At a recent West Morris Regional High School District board of education meeting, Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast said, “In order to be the best district, we need to have the best programs available,” for students.
As an established International Baccalaureate (IB) district, West Morris Central and Mendham High School are among just a handful in New Jersey with the offerings.
And it’s those offerings that piqued the interests of educators from the other side of the globe.
In the fall of 2012, Rutgers University professor Karen Pickering reached out to West Morris Central’s Debbie Gonzalez, the school’s IB Coordinator. Her inquiry was as flattering as it was random, Gonzalez said.
Delegates from the Japanese Ministry of Education would be visiting Rutgers in January, and while staying stateside, were interested in learning more about the role of IB in a public school setting, Pickering told Gonzalez.
In Japan, according to Gonzalez, there are currently 24 private schools focused on IB curriculum. The Ministry is exploring the idea of expanding the program to 200 public schools in the small Asian country.
In order to learn more about how the program is run, the delegates requested they meet with a school that implemented the academics successfully and ran it openly.
Rutgers chose West Morris Central as that example school.
Four of the delegates, along with two Consulate members from New York City, spent the morning of Jan. 9 speaking with Principal Steve Ryan, Gonzalez, and a few other teachers who instruct IB courses.
“To be seen as an expert in this subject,” Gonzalez said, “it was very flattering. We’ve (implemented IB) successfully, and it’s being seen that way.”
Delegates also spent time meeting with IB students, unannounced, to get their take on the program and how it works.
“They asked why we chose to take IB courses and what the teachers and classes were like,” said senior Jen Toner, who was part of the group of students questioned. “(The delegates) said it was beneficial and loved what we were doing.”
The IB program in the district is gateless, Gonzalez said, meaning there is no need to test into a course, and the faculty doesn’t discourage any student from attempting the work.
“There are no bells and whistles to get through,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a freedom to choose what to study, but there’s certainly more rigor (in IB). The role of the teacher (in IB) is to guide more than give. ”
This isn’t the first instance Central was used as a model institution for the program, Gonzalez said. Before Morris Knolls High School fully implemented IB, teachers and administrators from that school spent time at Central examining how it was run. The program is now fully implemented there, Gonzalez said.
While specific feedback on the meeting between Central teachers and members of the Ministry isn’t known, the delegates didn’t go home unimpressed.
“Our Japanese guests were very impressed and very much appreciative of your time and cooperation,” Pickering wrote to Gonzalez after the meeting. Potential IB teachers from Japan are expected, at a later date, to spend time at Central and become familiar with the coursework.
To be the best, you need to offer the best. In the eyes of colleges and other countries, the West Morris Regional High School District is doing just that.