IB or Not IB

Parents and students fight to save Lamar High School's International Baccalaureate program. Administrators don't see a problem.

Poisot, whose son is an IB senior, read aloud a four-page statement outlining the problems with Chemistry 2. For one, the textbook doesn't cover organic chemistry, which is on the exam. Plus, according to IB rules, students are to perform biweekly lab experiments, and lab notebooks comprise 25 percent of the final grade. Since August, the kids have had only one lab.

Poisot described how, on September 4, four fathers met with George August, coordinator of the IB program, and Case, the program's former coordinator. The school agreed that the new chemistry teacher needed help and hired Graham Scott, a postdoctoral chemistry researcher at Rice University, to tutor on Sundays.

Still, students weren't being prepared for the exam, Poisot said. According to Juli, the teacher sent the class to three lunch periods (instead of having class), rarely lectured and told the class she didn't know how to convert calories to kilocalories.

The solution McSwain offered in September was for complaining kids to switch into Millet's Chemistry 1 and 2 combined class. The students would be a little bored reviewing the Chem 1, but they would get the teacher they wanted and learn Chem 2.

The problem is that Millet was only teaching Chem 1. At the meeting, the valedictorian's mother handed McSwain her daughter's Chem 1 notebook from two years ago and her daughter's notebook from this year. The review for the exam was exactly the same; actually Millet was a little behind this year.

"Oh," McSwain said softly, pushing a pen into his palm. "It's designed to be a different course."

As the meeting progressed, the only problem that seemed clear to the administrators was that the parents in the room weren't happy. "We are receptive to the idea that there is a group of parents who are upset with the Chemistry 2 class," Reiner said. "We're sensitive to it."

The parents asked how the administrators planned to fix the problem. Repeatedly, they asked for an answer by December 17. They were told that wouldn't happen.

"When can we expect an answer?" William Moorhead asked five times -- but he didn't even get an answer to that question.

"We fully realize that you're not happy with the situation as it is," McSwain said. "But not everybody agrees with you."

"Do you?" parents asked.
"No," he said. He didn't see a problem.
The parents also demanded an effort to keep Case on the faculty.
"You are going to lose her," Louise Moorhead said. "You know that."
"No," McSwain said. "I don't."

"I'm not talking about CIA deniability," said Kirk Weaver, whose two sons graduated from the IBprogram.

"Have you asked her to stay?" Louise Moorhead asked.
"She's welcome to stay," McSwain said.
"Did she or did she not submit a resignation in writing to the authorities at HISD?" William Moorhead asked.

"She did," McSwain said.
"And you don't know she's leaving?" a parent asked, exasperated.
"Open your eyes, and see that you've done something wrong," another told McSwain.

Arms crossed over her chest, Juli sat in the back left corner wanting to scream. She was quiet because students had been asked to leave the meeting. Juli stayed, but she kept her mouth shut and quietly grew madder.

"All I want is to learn," Juli said later. "And it's frustrating to go to a school that says, 'No, not allowed.' "

The Chemistry 2 problem -- the problem McSwain didn't see -- was fixed a week later. On Thursday, December 17, students started signing up for the spring semester's Chem 2 class, taught by Millet.

"I'm supposed to be the miracle worker," Millet said. "We've already lost half a year.

"Why was I not good enough at the beginning of the year, but now I am? They knew what I could do. Why did it take so long?"

At the December 10 meeting, McSwain claimed Millet was teaching the classes he wanted to teach. But Millet says he always wanted to teach IB Chemistry 2.

McSwain refused to comment on the IB discord. HISD public-relations official Terry Abbott asked that questions be submitted in writing. But instead of answering the specific questions, McSwain replied with a bland, vague statement:

"We have in the past and will continue in the future to be committed to a strong academic tradition at Lamar High School. This includes a commitment to a strong International Baccalaureate program. The major initiatives for this program have been to support it with additional personnel, time, resources and training for teachers and to facilitate discussion among faculty members for needs of the future. Any information suggesting that there is an attempt to diminish or replace the program would be incorrect. We maintain an open environment. We listen carefully to the concerns of parents and seek to find reasonable solutions to issues through such dialogue. We value the service and input of all of our faculty members. Lamar High School is a great school, and it's going to continue to be a great school with an International Baccalaureate program that will be stronger than ever."

Rogene Gee Calvert has watched McSwain keep his word.
"I can't imagine McSwain would let this program go down the drain; he's got too much at stake," says Calvert, who has two children in the IB program and is the Lamar parent magnate advisory board president.

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