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Three Hall County schools get International Baccalaureate authorization
Students would study other cultures, languages
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Kelly McCormack, a North Hall High School parent, talks about how she thinks the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme will benefit students at Johnson, North Hall and West Hall high schools, which have been authorized to offer the program beginning next school year.

GAINESVILLE — Johnson, North Hall and West Hall high schools have been authorized to start up the highly challenging International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, announced the official OK from the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate Organization in an e-mail Friday afternoon to all school system employees.

He called the IB diploma "arguably the finest academic high school program on the planet."

The school system now comprises 12 percent of the IB Diploma programs in the state, Schofield said.

"Three years worth of effort from a core group of passionate people will pay off tremendous dividends for future generations of Hall County leaders," he said.

Schofield’s e-mail goes on to thank the Hall County Board of Education "for supporting 21st-century programs of rigor."

The Diploma Programme seeks "to provide students with a truly international education" that encourages "an understanding and appreciation of other cultures, languages and points of view," according to the IB Web site.

Laurie Ecke, IB coordinator at West Hall, said her "faculty worked together for the past two years to share a common vision for our school, and our community, parents and students have been supportive and excited every step of the way."

The three schools, as well as Flowery Branch High, began last school year exploring whether to pursue IB authorization. Flowery Branch eventually opted out.

The school system spent $4,500 per school to apply for entry into the program. IB authorization teams visited the schools this past fall.

The school system now is looking at students interested in the program from Flowery Branch, East Hall and Chestatee high schools to transfer to Johnson High School in South Hall.

Here’s a brief look at the IB program’s "core requirements," according to the program’s Web site:

Extended essay: Students must write 4,000 words based on the investigation of a topic of interest. The task is designed to acquaint "students with the independent research and writing skills expected at university."

Theory of knowledge: An interdisciplinary course "designed to provide coherence by exploring the nature of knowledge across disciplines and encouraging an appreciation of other cultural perspectives."

Creativity, action and service: Students need to take part in "artistic pursuits, sports and community service work" as a way to foster their "awareness and appreciation of life outside the academic arena."

Ecke said teachers attended workshops, wrote syllabuses and met every two weeks "to make this dream a reality."

"Our entire faculty worked together to build a program where our entire school could participate through community service," she added.

Kelly McCormack, a North Hall High parent who pushed the effort, credited administrators who were "ready to move forward and make some changes" in education.

She said she believes the program "will link us to the rest of the world."

"We’re not just competing with children from our area to get into colleges," said McCormack, whose son is a 10th-grader at North Hall. "We’re competing with children from other countries and all across our country."