STEM academy won’t open this year


youngstown state university

By Denise Dick

denise_dick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Mahoning Valley’s only STEM-designated high school was supposed to open next school year, but because of the amount of work required to get the space ready, the opening has been pushed back a year.

STEM+ME2, pronounced “STEM and me too,” will focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics and manufacturing, energy and entrepreneurship.

Last March, school officials announced it would open for the 2015 to 2016 school year on the second floor of Phelps Hall at Youngstown State University.

But the whole floor has to be gutted for the school to move in. The cost is about $1.3 million.

“It was going to take us all the way up to the day if nothing went wrong,” said Jason Braddock, the school’s director. “We decided it would be better to just take another year.”

Initially, the university and the new school had planned for the academy to move into Melnick Hall, but YSU instead opted to renovate that building and relocate the YSU Foundation and WYSU there. “Phelps is a much better fit for us,” Braddock said.

The academy will pay about $50,000 per year for the YSU space. Once it opens, it will rely on the state per pupil funding to operate. Until then, Braddock said the academy’s funding hinges on loans and grants to buy equipment and get started.

The STEM, manufacturing, energy and entrepreneurship focus is based on the job needs in the Valley, Braddock said.

Vince Colaluca, Austintown superintendent and president of the academy board, said the additional year provides the opportunity for districts to offer tours of the facility to eighth-graders, similar to how high school underclass students get tours of the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center.

“When we’re [Austintown schools] involved in a program, we make sure it’s going in the direction we want it to go rather than the issue we’ve had where students come back from a charter school that is not very successful,” he said.

The academy gives options to families.

“Our take is this should give parents options under our auspices as opposed to other programs that aren’t doing a very good job,” Colaluca said.

With the March announcement, 20 students applied to attend the school for the 2015-16 school year. Those students, if still interested, will have spots reserved for the following year, when the school opens.

The delayed opening also means a change in the school’s grade structure. The original plan was for the school to open with 110 ninth-graders the first year and then expand to include both ninth and 10th the next school year.

Instead, 75 ninth-graders and 75 10th-graders will be accepted in the first year. The second year, 2017-2018, school officials hope to accept 110 new ninth-graders.

The academy includes Austintown, Canfield, Poland and Struthers school districts with involvement from the Mahoning County Educational Service Center, but students from anywhere in Ohio may apply.

The 20 who applied included students from Austintown, Youngstown, Canfield, Poland, Girard and Cortland as well as other communities.

Braddock said the school wants students who are interested in STEM and hands-on learning, but there are no geographical or academic requirements for acceptance.

If too many students apply, selection will be made by lottery.

Youngstown school board and academic distress commission members have criticized plans for the academy, saying it will take students away from the Chaney STEM program.

Braddock said that’s not the intention.

“We had Youngstown in the conversation from the beginning,” he said.

The academy just offers another option to more students, Braddock said.

Plans still are being worked out for 11th and 12th graders.

The school will have eight teachers and a secretary. “We’re looking for out-of-the-box thinkers,” he said.

Classes will vary from what’s offered in a traditional classroom. Math and computer science, for example, will be one class with instruction covering combining and integrating those subjects. School days will be scheduled in blocks with 100 minutes per class Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and 200 minutes Wednesday and Thursday.

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