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Parents of Williams Elementary magnet students say they will leave if the new IB program takes effect

Lina Cui is the mother of a second grader at Williams Elementary School.

But if the school implements the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme in the fall as its leaders plan to, she may take her son elsewhere — and at least 75 other families said they’ll do the same.

At a Feb. 6 Alachua County School Board meeting, parents of students in the magnet program at Williams Elementary School spoke to the board against the program. They said 94% of families polled said they’d leave Williams if the program is implemented at its projected rate.

They have questions and concerns, they said, and they want the district to slow down, hear them out and consider the change carefully.

Cui, who orchestrated the survey, is a professor at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy.

Her son is part of Williams’ magnet program, which is designed for “high-achieving” students, Alachua County Public Schools district spokesperson Jackie Johnson wrote in an email.

Cui’s concerns, echoed by other magnet parents, center around the way IB is being implemented.

“We all feel it’s kind of in a rush,” she said in the meeting.

Parents banded together in a WhatsApp group chat. They met virtually to discuss and decide what their concerns were. They drafted an email to the board, which they virtually signed.

The response, according to Cui, was that their concerns would be passed along. Parents were not satisfied.

The magnet program at Williams was the first of its kind at the elementary level in Alachua County. Parents say it’s been highly successful in the past, and they are confident in it.

The program groups kids into cohorts, which they remain in as they move up in grade level. Kids go to class with the same peers for years.

In a Jan. 24 information session between faculty and parents, the school told parents they would be implementing IB, Cui said.

“And then we asked ‘What about the existing program the kids are in?’” Cui said. “They’ll be like, ‘Oh, pretty much that’s gone.’”

Many parents travel to Williams, a school for which many of them aren’t zoned, just for the magnet program.

Vijay Kalluru, a senior director for an IT company, said the roundtrip commute to drop off and pick up his fourth-grade son is an hour long.

Kalluru also spoke against the program at the meeting. On Jan. 12, the district sent parents an email about the upcoming school year, he said. The email said Williams would have the magnet program and Prairie View Elementary School would host an IB Primary Years Programme program. Prairie View Elementary has been vacant since 2008 except for sporadic use as a swing school while others were under construction.

According to Kalluru, on Jan. 19, just a week later, the county sent another email saying Williams would be adopting IB in the coming year.

“This raises several questions as to why or, like, how things changed within a week,” he said in the meeting.

If IB is implemented, students would build a portfolio of their work documenting their progress starting in kindergarten. Other changes to the school would include the addition of a Spanish language teacher as part of a language immersion effort, as well as a Primary Years Programme coordinator and additional basic planning resources, according to Johnson.

“The primary difference is that the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme is intended to serve all students at a school, not just those in the magnet program,” Johnson said regarding the difference between IB and the current magnet program.

Kalluru said IB is a “wonderful program,” and he’d be happy to see it incorporated at Williams.

“But if we don't implement it the right way, OK, if we don't do the due diligence, then the program could fall flat on everyone's face, right? And the kids are the ones that are going to get impacted,” he said.

Yangyang Xu has a third grader and a fifth grader at Williams. At last week’s board meeting, he called in to advocate for magnet students.

“We have to realize students are not all the same. It seems easy to portray magnet kids as privileged, but the truth is that these kids spend almost two hours on the road every day, and they wake up at 6 a.m.,” Xu said in the meeting.

Xu looked into the history of IB locally, he said.

He found the Jan. 12 announcement to parents by the district saying Prairie View Elementary would have the IB program was preceded by discussion and direction from Superintendent Shane Andrew by months. The follow-up email parents received a week later meant the decision must have been changed within the week.

Johnson said the original plan was “to basically start from scratch at Prairie View Elementary School.”

But plans changed.

“After further thought, the decision was made to place the IB PYP program at Williams,” she said. “So where there is an existing population, we already have teachers at the school, the facility is set to go.”

Xu said this resulted in a lack of planning and communication with parents.

“This is totally dictated by the district administration. And this is a rush decision they made within a week, and they just made it public,” he said.

Board Member Tina Certain shares uncertainty about the superintendent’s goals for the program.

“Mr. Andrew shared that he planned to start a PYY IB program at Prairie View during a workshop back in November 2023,” she said in an email. “I've asked but he hasn't shared the estimated start-up cost, expected future costs or funding sources with the Board. Like the parents, I have unanswered questions.”

But Johnson said the idea for an IB PYP program isn’t new to the district. The superintendent began his tenure in 2022, she said, which is when he began forming plans for the program.

He was principal of Eastside High School for five years, Johnson said, which has a successful IB program.

Anita Wokhlu is the mother of a fourth grader in the magnet program. She shares the concerns of other parents and emphasizes the significance of the potential destruction of the cohorts. She thinks other parents are concerned about this, but may not voice it directly.

“I don't know if they're really concerned about the IB PYP, just to be honest with you,” she said. “I think the issue is that in the process of developing the IB PYP, the magnet program that currently exists was essentially abruptly dissolved.”

She said parents may be relying on the word “rushed” because it’s an uncomfortable conversation.

And though her family is serious about reconsidering her son’s education depending on how Williams moves forward, she doesn’t think the school district should be especially concerned with the needs of magnet parents, she said.

Wokhlu has not yet decided whether her son will be leaving or staying, but she cares about the future of Williams regardless.

“We really hope that the school improves and that all the children thrive, whether our son is there or not,” she said.

Johnson said the district hopes to retain families currently enrolled at Williams.

“We would love to have all of the parents and students who are currently involved at Williams to remain as we get the PYP program underway,” she said. “But we certainly understand if they decide that for their particular child, this is not the right fit. And they can certainly — they would certainly be able to attend their zone school, or take advantage of a zoning exemption for their child to attend another school.”

Julia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing