STEM Academy is coming to Tuxedo
Tuxedo BOE also approves non-resident tuition rate, providing students in other districts an opportunity to get a STEM education
TUXEDO — The area’s first Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM) Academy is coming to George F. Baker High School in Tuxedo this fall.
By a 7-0 vote, the Tuxedo Board of Education approved the creation of the STEM Academy at the school, which will be launched this September.
The board also voted to accept non-resident students into its K-12 curriculum on a tuition basis similar to private and parochial schools.
The details on tuition rates have not been finalized.
This, officials believe, opens the doors to maintain Baker High School’s long-term viability as the issue of building school census becomes critical, now that Tuxedo remains one of three high school choices for Greenwood Lake residents to send their children.
After months of contentious meetings, Tuxedo was reinstated last fall into the choice mix of Warwick and Chester. Community reaction still remains somewhat mixed about the Greenwood Lake Board of Education’s decision.
Quickly thereafter, the Tuxedo School District retained consultants to offer recommendations for Baker’s future viability. Those included establishing a STEM academy, international high school and/or conversion charter school. Those two remaining choices are still being considered, according to Tuxedo School District Superintendent Carol Lomascolo.
But once the extended Jan. 17 deadline passed, Greenwood Lake residents showed their support of the school they attended for nearly 30 years with 73 percent, or 48 out of 66 Greenwood Lake eighth-graders choosing Baker; 11 chose Warwick Valley High School and seven chose the Chester Academy.
So, what needs to happen to make the STEM Academy ready for September?
“It means that we are, in the short-term, pulling together a team of teachers and administrators to design our STEM,” Lomascolo said. “We are targeting to have it up and running in September for the ninth- grade. We believe our STEM program is a four-year program, but that doesn’t mean the 10th, 11th and 12th graders won’t have opportunities. We are planning on designing special electives for upperclassman so they have that exposure.”
‘Real world’ education
Lomascolo said the school is actively looking to partner with businesses in the immediate and surrounding areas to work with it.
“One important component is real world experience, in the classroom and outside, so students learn about STEM-related information, but also have the experience working on projects both in the classroom and in the real world with businesses,” she added. “I am reaching out for partners. They don’t have to be a large corporation. You need to make it (STEM) uniquely your own, based on your business partners.”
Lomascolo said STEM is more than just science, technology, engineering and math courses.
“It’s a philosophy of how you learn, it’s a way to teach or have student-driven instruction where the students become problem-solvers and are analytical,” she said. “They are creative in the way they think and the way you instruct builds those higher level skills which are 21st century skills.
“That approach to teaching is what we are creating for next year for the ninth-grade, “ she added, “but it will be shared with the entire faculty. The other teachers will be exposed problem-based method of instruction they can incorporate into their classes if they want to.”
NYC, Rochester, NJ
Lomascolo said the closest STEM academies are in the New York City and Rochester area as well as in New Jersey. Officials plan site visits this spring to get a better understanding of curriculum. Tuxedo’s curriculum should be in place by the end of June.
“I think it’s cutting-edge,” said Lomascolo. “I think we need to break the mold of the way education has been and have it be more student- driven, problem-based, critically thinking-based and provide students with an opportunity to build those skills.”
Lomascolo said STEM offerings and state-mandated core curriculum will be linked together.
“Those teachers will become a team,” she said. “It will enrich core curriculum and complement core curriculum because there will be an integration of the work all those teachers are doing.”
The next step, according to Lomascolo, is to take a look at the conversion charter school option as the district refines and designs its STEM Academy.
“We need to continue exploring that over the next month or so,” she said. “And the international high school has yet to be addressed.”
Increase student census
Lomascolo felt the establishment of a non-resident tuition rate “opens the doors to a small school environment if that’s what somebody potentially wants. And yes, it would increase our student census.”
She added: “We are talking about an open house for parents to see our schools. This is a unique opportunity if they (parents) want to take advantage of STEM. There are other schools (in the area) who accept (non-district resident) tuition but whether they actively pursue them (students) I cannot know.”
While the tuition’s dollar figure has yet to be determined, admission would be on a first-come, first-served basis, she said. That differs from the lottery selection requirements of a conversion charter school.
“Interested parents can call us and put their name on a list,” said Lomascolo.
Lomascolo stressed its long-term ties with Greenwood Lake remain in the forefront of planning. District officials are talking with State Education Department officials about if and how Tuxedo can reserve a certain number of seats for Greenwood Lake students, should the conversion charter school become a reality.
In the end, there would only be a finite number of “student seats” available due to the building’s size, she added, estimating the school could accept about 100 more students to fill it to capacity.
Lomascolo said the atmosphere in the district has changed from one of stress about the future to exhilaration about the new possibilities awaiting the school, its students and even non-resident students.
“They (staff) are very excited, the community is very excited,” she said. “I think it can’t happen fast enough for them. They want to do this. I always thought that we were a great school; I think we can be a school of excellence the surrounding areas want to come to. This is going to be a very exciting spring.”
By Nancy Kriz
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