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School board should say 'Yes' to STEM school : Editorials : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
School board should say 'Yes' to STEM school

As we reported this past week, Oswego School District Board members raised some pointed questions during their Jan. 13 meeting about a proposed agreement concerning the district's participation in the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School now under construction on the campus of Aurora University on the southwest side of the city.

The board is expected to further discuss and possibly vote on the agreement during their next meeting on Monday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in the community room at Oswego East School.

The $12 million STEM Partnership School is scheduled to open this August for the 2014-15 academic year. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. Aurora University's Mathematics and Science Education Center used a grant from the non-profit John C. Dunham Fund in 2009 to develop a model for the teaching of math and science education to students in a diverse urban community. The center's goal is to eventually replicate the teaching model across the country. The next phase in the center's plan is to operate the STEM school to serve students from the four school districts and to help train teachers from the districts to become leaders in math and science instruction in their local schools.

As planned the school will have a total enrollment of 200 third through eighth graders, including 50 from the Oswego School District, and 50 each from the West Aurora, Indian Prairie and East Aurora school districts. The curriculum at the school will emphasize science, technology, engineering and math. Oswego and the other participating school districts would be responsible for providing daily transportation for their students to the STEM school. Upon completing the eighth grade, STEM school students will return to attend high school in their home districts.

The STEM school will be funded with contributions from the four participating school districts, $800,000 from Aurora University and over $7 million in contributions from corporate donors, including the Caterpillar Foundation, Commonwealth Edison, Waste Management and Tellabs Foundation.

The total cost to the four school districts to participate in the STEM School during its first year of operation would be $1,499,383 or $374,845 per district, according to information presented to the board. The $374,845 each district would contribute to the STEM school would amount to $7,496 per student. It's important to note that the $7,496 the Oswego School District would pay per student to the STEM school is less than the $8,700 the district currently pays in total operational cost per student.

The school board's questioning of the agreement Jan. 13 was understandable, but also important and necessary given the district's financial condition. The STEM school-like the mid-1980s proposal that led to the creation of the now nationally recognized Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora-is a totally new concept in education and hard questions need to be asked about its costs, who it will serve, and how others will benefit.

We believe it makes both financial and educational sense for the board to approve the STEM school agreement and thereby provide local students and teachers with access to what will most certainly be a unique educational opportunity. To say "no" to the agreement would be to give that opportunity to students and teachers from other area school districts.

School Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt and School Board President Bill Walsh have set a goal of making the school district a "world class" educational institution. We continue to support that effort and believe a school district that has "world class" aspirations will say "yes" to an innovative initiative that promises to help improve how math and science is taught, not only to the 200 students that will attend the STEM school, but ultimately to all of the students in the four participating school districts.

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