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2 North Side high schools last to offer baccalaureate program

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talked with Taft High School Students after announcing 'wall-to-wall' International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes their school Lincoln Park

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talked with Taft High School Students after announcing "wall-to-wall" International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes at their school and Lincoln Park High School. (from left) Reham Awad, Jasmine Choy, Alice Higginbotham and Natalia Chreptowicz greeted the mayor. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 15, 2013 11:27AM

Two North Side High Schools — Taft and Lincoln Park —will become the last of six promised Chicago Public high schools devoted exclusively to International Baccalaureate diploma programs.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and newly-appointed Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett portrayed the move as pivotal to their push to provide high school choices to stop middle-class families from fleeing to the suburbs.

“IB was always a back-up to selective enrollment. Now, it’s a competitive choice [along with] selective enrollment. That’s a new chapter,” Emanuel told a news conference at Taft, 6530 N. Bryn Mawr.

“We will have more choice, high-quality choices for our families. They will not have to go to the suburbs….They will be able not only be able to stay in the city…Oak Park, has now said [they] want to copy what Chicago has done. Name me the last time a [suburb] wanted to copy what Chicago is doing on education. That’s a reverse flow.”

Byrd-Bennett pointed to a University of Chicago study that showed IB students are 40 percent more prepared to attend a four-year college, 50 percent more likely to get into a selective college and significantly more likely to stay in college for at least two years. Most are also the first members of their families to go to college.

“As someone who represents the first generation of a child to graduate from high school and from college, I personally understand the powerful impact that programs like IB have on students and their families,” she said.

“By making Lincoln Park and Taft wall-to-wall IB schools and expanding our IB school programs and courses, we’re opening up pockets of excellence across our city. The expansion…represents a critical, critical component of our overall strategy of increasing access to high-quality schools.”

Earlier this year, Emanuel announced plans to double the size of the IB program and devote five neighborhood high schools “wall-to-wall” to that curriculum to prepare as many as 3,500 more students for college admission and college success.

At the time, the rigorous college readiness curriculum designed for the children of diplomats was confined to 13 high schools and 3,500 students.

Since then, Senn, Clemente, Hyde Park and Back of the Yards were chosen to offer wall-to-wall IB programs, beginning next fall.

Now, they will be joined by Taft and Lincoln Park, 2001 N. Orchard. Emanuel said he agreed to six wall-to-wall IB programs under heavy pressure from aldermen.

The Chicago IB program that’s been stuck in place since 1995 selects students based on several factors and weeds out those unlikely to succeed.

That will not be the case for six new exclusive IB schools. They will maintain “open enrollment” and accept any student in the neighborhood who wants to make a commitment to the rigorous program. Nobody will be filtered out based on interviews, ISAT scores, grades or teacher recommendations.

Earlier this year, the beloved coordinator of IB programs at Curie High School questioned the decision to take all comers.

Sharyl Barnes said a program that requires juniors and seniors to take seven university classes needs to weed out those who can’t cut it or risk setting up kids for failure and losing them when they do.

On Thursday, Taft senior Patrice Pirpiris, an International Baccalaureate diploma candidate, strongly disagreed.

“It’s really hard. But, I don’t think it needs to take a specific type of student. It takes the drive — and we have really great teachers who are pushing us,” said Pirpiris, 17.

“It doesn’t matter if that student isn’t motivated when they come into the program. They’ll definitely be motivated by the time they get out.”

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