Gordon Parks Academy is officially an International Baccalaureate World School — the only public IB middle school in Kansas — and officials say the achievement could increase its appeal to families across the district.
"It's huge," said Stephanie Stovall, principal of the K-8 school near 25th and Grove.
"We have a phenomenal staff and parents who just really pulled together to help us with this authorization," she said. "It happened more quickly than we expected."
Administrators learned earlier this month that the middle school's program meets the requirements to be an IB World School. They hope to gain similar approval for the elementary program in coming months.
Gordon Parks Academy opened as an "IB candidate school" in 2008. The process to become certified by the international organization involves staff training, interviews and visits from IB supervisors, and usually takes about three years.
Teachers and parents cheered the news, saying the designation could sway more students from across the district to apply for the magnet school, which is in a largely minority neighborhood.
"Some parents need to see the title. They need to see it in black and white," said Gilda Muci, whose son, Alex, is an eighth-grader at Gordon Parks. "I already told the teachers, 'At Choices Fair next year, we're going to have a line.' "
The K-8 academy was one of the diversity solutions the district touted after discontinuing its policy of busing for integration. All new students must apply. Half are drawn from a pool of applicants that live in the surrounding neighborhood; the rest are chosen by lottery from applicants across the district.
Since it opened, however, some community leaders have expressed concern about the school's overwhelmingly minority student population. More than 75 percent of Gordon Parks students are black or multiracial, about 6 percent are Hispanic, and 16 percent are white. More than 80 percent receive free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty.
Kevin Myles, president of the Wichita Branch NAACP, said last spring he was "cautiously optimistic that once the school achieves IB status, it will become a diverse learning environment.
"It can serve as a model for the district and statewide as an initiative that achieved... desegregation based on high standards and academic rigor," Myles said.
Say "IB" around Wichita, and most people think of the exclusive, academically rigorous program at East High School. Generally considered among the most challenging high school curricula, IB was designed after World War II for the children of diplomats who sought an internationally recognized diploma that would command respect around the world.
Eighth-graders apply for the program and take a standardized entrance exam in January. They are evaluated based on grades, extracurricular activities, test scores and teacher evaluations. Fewer than half are accepted.
The Wichita district also advertises Robinson Middle School as a "pre-IB" program where students can prepare for the East High program, but the middle school isn't certified by the international organization.
IB World Schools, including Gordon Parks, share a similar philosophy and approach but are more inclusive. Students are accepted into the program regardless of their academic ability. Although students from Gordon Parks can apply for the diploma program at East, they aren't automatically accepted.
Denise Wren, Wichita's assistant superintendent for high schools, said the district "has done some looking into creating another high school (IB) program," but there are no immediate plans. Tightening budgets are the primary hurdle, she said.
"There's a cost to be a part of it — expenses for teacher training and other things," Wren said. But with Gordon Parks achieving certification, she and other officials predict an increased demand for IB.
"It's definitely something we're looking at and something we want to do," she said.