Elementary School First in Richmond to Go International 

Before his first son was born, Matt Illian was volunteering at Chimborazo Elementary School. Four years later, before his son enters kindergarten, his wife, Catherine, is secretary of the Parent Teacher Association, and he’s working with a diverse group of parents to bring an internationally recognized way of learning to the school.

“Certainly there are some selfish motivations,” Illian says — “we want the best for our kids — but it’s also a way to invest in our community.”

Parents in the neighborhood around Chimborazo have been working with the school for more than a year to drum up support for an international baccalaureate program. More than 200 people have signed petitions and the school’s faculty and staff have voted in support.

International baccalaureate programs began in the 1960s as a way to provide a common curriculum recognized by universities around the world. The program is offered in segments that last several weeks, mixing traditional school subjects and encouraging a higher level of pupil participation. For example, one segment is called “How the World Works,” and fuses science with social studies.

Originally geared toward children of diplomats, military people and other world travelers, the program will attract more parental support, proponents say, especially from more affluent residents who have moved into Church Hill in recent years.

“The East End is so diverse,” Principal Cheryl Burke told School Board members last week. “It’s exciting to be part of the change.”

A financial planner, Illian says he and his wife weren’t always sure they’d send their children to public schools. As they got to know Burke and several of Chimborazo’s teachers, their comfort level grew. “We’ve come to realize that these are people we really respect and trust,” he says.

It would be the first IB program that the city offers at the elementary level. The school system has programs at Lucille M. Brown Middle School and at Thomas Jefferson High School. At Jefferson, about 2 percent of students were enrolled in the program in 2009-2010. Chimborazo’s program would be schoolwide.

With the School Board’s unanimous vote of support June 6, proponents will move forward with a feasibility study. Teachers could begin training this summer, and the school can begin the program next year.

Supporters say it won’t cost the school system money — a task force plans to raise more than $350,000 privately for teacher training and other costs associated with the process to become an authorized IB school. Full authorization could come in 2015.

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