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STEM school could impact FHS


Knox County School Board recently voted to move forward with a plan to open a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics magnet school in the historical L&N building in downtown Knoxville.

The STEM school, which KCS superintendant Dr. Jim McIntyre hopes will open in September 2011, will pull students interested in specializing in STEM courses from other Knox County schools, and eventually, McIntyre said, from surrounding areas as well.

“The proposal for a STEM high school in Knox County has its origins in our strategic plan, knoxschools.org." Excellence for All Children, as well as in Tennessee’s successful reform www.tn.gov/firsttothetop application in the federal Race to the Top competition,” McIntyre said


“In fact, Tennessee’s Race to the Top plan allocates $3 million for the startup of a STEM high school in Knoxville. With a confluence of interest, support, and momentum around this concept, the Knox County Schools has the chance to be a strong leader in STEM education, not only here in the Innovation Valley and East Tennessee, but across the state,” he added.

However, with some schools in Knox County, such as Farragut High School and Hardin Valley Academy, already participating in STEM partnerships the future of some of these partnerships seems uncertain.

Farragut High School science teacher Kristin Baksa said she and some of her fellow teachers are concerned they may lose the resources of some of their

partners.

“In 2006, we formed collaborative partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Knoxville Zoo to establish mentored STEM research opportunities for our students,” Baksa said. “The next year, The University of Tennessee became one of our partners.

“More than 150 of our students have conducted STEM research at these institutions. As a result of our efforts, the program has been formalized at UT and will be expanded to include all Knox County high schools. UT and ORNL mentors work with our teachers in their classrooms and conduct evening presentations for our students, faculty and

community.

“We are concerned that the resources that would be used to enrich our STEM program at our school, from UT and ORNL and some of the other smaller partnerships we have developed, would get funneled to the downtown school,” she added.

The resources from the partnerships are not the only ones that may get funneled to a new STEM school.

McIntyre said the money in the Race to the Top fund is “meant to be spent in the first couple years to get the school up and running and off the ground.”

Once the startup money is gone, funds will be reallocated within KCS to sustain the new school.

“When you look at how we fund our schools, we do it on an enrollment basis, so as students come from other high schools, the resources from those high schools would necessarily be less and those resources would come here,” McIntyre said.

“There may be some incremental additional financial costs that will have to identify within our general fund budget, but generally speaking, we think it is going to be largely budget neutral because the resources will come from where the students are transferring from,” he added.

Baksa also is concerned about grant money.

“With a new school like that, the attention is going to be there for grant money. That is a real favorable situation for getting grant money.

“I just don’t see how it can not affect other existing programs,” she said.

During the vote McIntyre responded to some of FHS’ concerns.

"The concept that we're looking at and talking about really isn't intended to limit or narrow opportunities for our students. It's really intended to broaden opportunities for our kids,” he said.

 

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