Former Hillsboro IB coordinator may start new charter school

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 10:42am

Mary Catherine Bradshaw, the former International Baccalaureate director whose transfer from Hillsboro High School last year caused a student uproar, is considering opening a Nashville charter school.

Bradshaw, currently a teacher at Metro’s Martin Luther King J.R. Academic Magnet School, told The City Paper Monday she’s developed a “business plan” for a new 5-12th-grade Metro charter called Nashville International School, with curriculum centered on the International Baccalaureate diploma program.

Whether she moves forward with the proposal depends on the level of community interest, she said. The process of evaluating support for her school model begins May 31 at 6 p.m. when Bradshaw will host a community meeting at Vanderbilt University’s Freedom Forum First Amendment Center.

“If there’s community interest and support then we’re going to definitely proceed with this,” Bradshaw said.

“I have some ideas about what works well with kids,” she said. “I really feel very strongly it’s an opportunity to create something here that would be great for the Nashville community.”

If Bradshaw moves forward with her plans for a publicly financed, privately led charter, she plans to apply for authorization with the Metro Nashville Board of Education next spring. Approval would allow Nashville International School to open during the fall of the 2014-15 school year.

The school board is currently in the process of evaluating a record 11 charter applicants for the 2013-14 school year.

International Baccalaureate, IB, is a highly demanding education program found in 139 nations, with students across the globe subject to universal standards and assessments. Students are to engage in community service, individual research, critical thinking and “an inquiry into the nature of knowledge.”

At the end of two-year program at the high school level, IB diplomas are awarded to students who reach certain benchmarks. In Metro, IB is found at schools in three high school clusters: Hillsboro, Hillwood and Hunters Lane.

Bradshaw told The City Paper her proposed charter school would culminate in the IB diploma program during the 11th and 12th grades.

“There are options within IB, and we would certainly consider what’s good for the individual student,” she said. “But ultimately, our goal would be to make sure that the students who go with us feel confident enough and prepared enough to do the IB diploma.”

Bradshaw, who as Hillsboro’s IB program leader was credited with advancing the model in Nashville, left Hillsboro last year following a well-publicized dispute with school district officials over The Academies of Nashville. The academies, the district’s high school redesign, steer coursework around various career themes in an effort to add real-world relevancy.

Controversy culminated at Hillsboro when hundreds of students stood on the school’s lawn to pronounce their support for Bradshaw. Despite their pleas, district administrators transferred Bradshaw to Martin Luther King, where today she teaches honors and Advanced Placement history and English.

Bradshaw said she’s focused on Nashville International School serving a diverse student population –– “racially, ethnically, religiously, socio-economically, all of the above.”

Though she’s unsure where the school would locate, Bradshaw said the school would provide transportation to allow students from all neighborhoods to attend.

“We certainly want a percentage of free and reduced lunch students,” Bradshaw said. “We want middle class. We want the whole gamut.

“What distinguishes what we’re doing is we’re not from somewhere else –– we’re from Nashville,” she said. “It’s going to be Nashville people starting a charter school for Nashville. That’s different from a franchise group coming in town.”

Historically, Bradshaw has been a skeptic of charter schools. Opening one herself therefore seems a bit ironic. She, however, sees herself as simply working within the now-dominant education structure, one advanced by the mayor’s office and governor.

“You can’t fight city hall,” she said. “You can’t fight state government. The structure that is being imposed through education reform rhetoric is the charter format.”

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