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STEM_school taking shape on Aurora U campus : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
STEM_school taking shape on Aurora U campus
Four school districts, AU would jointly operate school for 3rd-to-8th graders

by Lyle R. Rolfe


Oswego School District Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt noted during a press conference this past week at Aurora University that plans were already well underway for the district to participate in a joint school with the university and three other area school districts by the time he began work as superintendent in July 2012.
However, Wendt said he fully supports the establishment of the STEM Partnership School now under construction on the university's campus on Aurora's southwest side.
Also participating in the STEM school are AU and the West Aurora, East Aurora and Indian Prairie school districts.
STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As planned, the school is intended to "prepare the community's talented young learners" from the four school districts "in ways that will ignite their interest in mathematics and science," according to information on the school's website.
In addition, the website states, "Equally important is the opportunity to develop the school as a center for teacher preparation, faculty development and educational research."
"With the university and the four (school district) partners, as well as our corporate partners and our non-for-profit partners (The John C. Dunham Foundation) we have made something that will be a true gift to the students of our school districts and teachers come to fruition," Dr. Sherry Eagle, AU's Executive Director of the Institute for Collaboration said.
Eagle said the new school, funded by each district and the Dunham Foundation, will open in August with 200 students, 50 from each school district, and divided among grades three to eight. The teachers will be from each district and, like the students, must apply for the positions, she said.
The teachers will be at the STEM school for two to four years and then return to their home districts, where they will share their experiences with all other teachers. They must be certified for the grades and subjects they teach, and some will be required to be high school certified to teach courses that may be eligible for high school credit, Eagle said.
There is a criteria for students based on interest, talent in mathematics and science and education. Students will stay through eighth grade and then attend their local high school. In the event a student leaves the STEM school for any reason, they will be replaced by another student in the same grade level from their home school.
If more students apply than there is space for, which is highly likely, according to Dr. Rebecca Sherrick, AU president, the students will be chosen through a lottery.
At the present time some extracurricular activities including clubs will be offered at the school. Art, music and similar subjects will be offered by teachers from the home schools who will probably be assigned to the STEM school on a part-time basis.
Students will be considered as students from their home schools for programs and other events not being conducted at the STEM school.
Eagle said a $1,000 scholarship to Aurora University will be given to each STEM student who graduates from eighth grade, no matter how many years they attended the school. All full-time teachers will receive six hours of graduate credit for each year they teach at the STEM school, she added.
Steve McFarland, vice president for university communications and administration at AU, said each school superintendent will be presenting the program to their respective school boards at public board meetings within the next few weeks.

What about the cost?
A list of 20 questions from the public relations directors of the four districts were answered during the session.
One question was whether the cost of the STEM school would be more or less than the home school cost.
Dr. Kathryn Birkett, Indian Prairie superintendent, said the STEM school cost will be less, which means the home districts would be saving money. Funding for the STEM school will come from the four districts and AU, she said.
In response to another question, the fact sheet said students will be taught all subjects required by the Illinois State Board of Education. And the curriculum will be aligned to the Common Core standards, the Next Generation Science Standards and the ISBE requirements.
One official noted that transportation to and from the STEM school will be provided by each students' home school district.
Special needs students, bilingual students and others will be handled on a case-by-case basis, Eagle said.
Eagle said they are piloting the curriculum starting this week at three middle schools--Bednarcik in Aurora (Oswego School District), and Fisher and Granger in Indian Prairie, and Brooks Elementary School in Indian Prairie. They also started running some concepts of STEM programs last year at Simmons and Waldo middle schools in East Aurora and Jefferson Middle School in West Aurora, she noted.
She said this will be the first school in the nation to have four school districts and a university come together to operate a school.
Sherrick said AU is very passionate about learning and they see all children in the Aurora area as their children "...and we hope that they will all become our students." She said all partners can learn from each other as she has done by working with so many people.
"For me it has been a life changing situation," she said, adding that "...we can't wait to get the roof on and get going."
Wendt said it's sometimes difficult to get partnerships within the communities, " to get a partnership that reaches beyond borders is something I would hope and trust that we can continue to do.
"I think the word partnership needs to be underscored,"_he siad. "This first in the nation concept is great and there are many areas for partnerships among the people who are gathered around this table."
Wendt insisted that they want to prove academic achievement and said they need to step outside the traditional ways of educating students.
"I believe the taxpayers, parents and stakeholders expect us to be the leaders to bring down walls so we can reach across the aisles and develop not just partnership, but personal relationships," he said.
Dr. Jim Rydland, West Aurora superintendent, said the district's students are not as competitive as they need to be.
"We chose not to wring our hands. We chose to provide a solution and this is a part of a solution," he said, referring to the STEM school.
"We need to appreciate what it is our students need to know to be competitive in the future on an international stage. We are not as competitive as we need to be. We know the school is going to emulate high standards but also this school is going to allow us to understand that we need to teach differently," he said.
He said the teaching methods in the STEM school should impact how they teach math and science in all the schools, adding that students in all the schools will benefit from the way teaching is done in the STEM school.
Rydland also noted that Bob Vaughn, executive director of the Dunham Foundation, told him they were not going to throw money at things, but would provide resources that would be sustainable, have continuity and have people in a room that would buy in and make a commitment.
"It does not matter where education is occurring but what students are learning is what they care about. This is a model not only for learning, but it's a model for some of the issues that face us," he said.
Rydland thanked Vaughn for offering help only if the districts also helped themselves, which is happening with the STEM school.
He said Wendt told him it's not about the Oswego School District but what can they do together.
Rydland said he agreed and said they need more not less of this cooperation, not just in the community but in the country.
"This is a significant initiative for a school, and certainly for teachers and how they teach. This is a serious statement about a community saying we're here and we what you as a business to locate in this community," Rydland added.
It also was noted that the teachers' unions were cooperating with the program.
"I think its phenomenal that we've got these four school districts together with the university to accomplish this goal. On behalf of the Dunham Fund this is our marquee project. We funded many things since 2007, but none as important as this one," Vaughn said.
"We don't ask that John's (Dunham) name be put on many things, but on this project we asked because this project is going to be so great for the community, the greater Aurora area, and for the students. I just can't say enough.
"This is without question our number one project," Vaughn said, adding that they could even give more financial assistance in the future.
Sherrick said their first year budget is $2.3 million, about $800,000 of which will come from AU.
Also many graduates of the original Aurora College who ended up at Silicon Valley in California may be talked into making contributions to the school, she added.
Sherrick said they have additional open space around the building for future expansion, but noted that math and science buildings are very expensive about --$400 per square foot.
Rydland noted that a study by the American Association of University Women showed that young women make lifetime decisions about math and science at an early age. They make it in elementary school, he said.
"This is an opportunity to have our students whether young women or men, or from a variety of cultural backgrounds to be connected to individuals who are in the field and who have been successful.
This has a powerful opportunity to show significant results with populations of students where some folks would say it's not going to happen. This has the possibilities to show it can happen."

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