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McIntyre responds to STEM questions

Knox County Schools’ recent approval to proceed with plans for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics school in the historic L&N Depot downtown has prompted several questions from educators at Farragut High School regarding some of FHS’s existing STEM partnerships.

Prior to the KCS vote approving the plans, several FHS educators sent a letter to KCS and its School Board members asking why the school could not be considered to become a STEM school rather than build a new school.

Kristin Baksa, FHS science teacher and faculty advisor for the much lauded Science Academy, laid out the case citing location, current partnerships and FHS’s ability to handle transfer students among the several reasons she felt FHS should be considered.

KCS Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre addressed some of those issues with farragutpress.

“What we are trying to accomplish really isn’t to diminish or dismantle what has been in place at Farragut High School and some of our other high schools and the success we have had there. It is really to try and broaden the opportunities for our students in the stem disciplines,” he said.

In answer to the question of converting an existing school to a STEM school, McIntyre said, “We think there is a value in a free standing magnet because you have the opportunity to draw students from all over the county, and it creates its own identity … it creates a culture in school that will support the education, like the scientific method and like the engineering process, and integrate that into the entire curriculum and the entire school, from the ground up.

“We felt that a stand alone would create some educational opportunities that we might not have in a school-within-a-school,” he added.

McIntyre said a free standing STEM school is something that has been talked about by KCS, and by the community, for about two years and when the Race to the Top program came about, there was money earmarked specifically for just such a school.

In addition to the concept of a STEM Academy, Race for the Top also contains a concept for a STEM Hub, for which McIntyre said he sees the work already going on at FHS and some other area schools as a benefit.

“A STEM Hub is a broader STEM partnership in different regions around the state that would really concentrate on high quality STEM education opportunities, so we really see the work at Farragut High School and Hardin Valley Academy and Fulton High School and other schools as an important component of that potential STEM Hub in addition to the Stem Academy that we are talking about, and in addition to partnerships with The University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” he said.

Another concern is that under KCS enrollment based budget formula, schools with high numbers of transferring students may lose teaching positions.

“We really do have an enrollment-based staffing and budget formula here in Knox County Schools, so it really depends on the number of students you have in your school as to the level of staffing and the budget they receive,” McIntyre said.

“We really feel that the enrolment-based formula allows us to allocate resources fairly,” he added.

McIntyre said the thing to keep in mind is that not all schools within Knox County have access to some of the educational opportunities that students at FHS and HVA have.

“They do have access at Farragut High School so we may see fewer students from Farragut opt into this particular school because they may already feel like they have access to a high quality stem education.

“Creating this school will enhance stem opportunities for all of our students including those at Farragut High School,” he added.

McIntyre said locating the school downtown is an effort to both make the school centrally located to all of Knox County as well as offer a close proximity to UT, one of the new schools partners, so that students can have access to some of the university’s facilities and laboratories.


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