This year's freshmen will be part of the STEM school, but this year's sophomores, juniors, and seniors will not. I'm not sure what will happen to them.
It is unclear what classes Cleveland will offer that will reflect the STEM focus. Will Cleveland have more or different math and science classes than other Seattle high schools? Will it have any math or science classes other than those available at Garfield and Roosevelt? What will be the Technology classes? What will be the Engineering classes? No one knows.
Will Cleveland have CTE courses or programs that reflect the STEM focus. I have heard people suggest that Cleveland duplicate the Biotech Academy CTE courses now found only at Ballard High School. Will it? What other CTE courses will Cleveland have? No one knows.
The District has been pretty clear that they expect the STEM school to be particularly rigorous. The Board Action that created the school reads: "STEM high schools are unique, and offer a systematic, four-year course of study with an intense focus on preparing students for academic and professional futures in science, technology, engineering and math. Because of this, a STEM school is not necessarily desirable to all students." Here's a quote from the school web site: "Why is Cleveland becoming a STEM high school? Seattle Public Schools has a need to improve its offerings in advanced science district-wide, and recognizes the need to offer a highly rigorous, college preparatory high school choice located in south Seattle." So will the STEM school be looking for students who are specifically interested in pursuing a rigorous course of study in the maths and sciences or will it be open to students of all abilities and interests? No one knows.
Now the bad news. These answers are not likely to come soon. In fact, they are not likely to come before the close of open enrollment. The Cleveland STEM project is being led at the District by Susan Derse, who is not particularly well known for her effectiveness or ability to communicate.
I fear that the STEM program at Cleveland will never appear. The Board Action creating the program included this requirement:
Further, prior to the Superintendent making a final decision to open a STEM program at Cleveland High School, the Superintendent will provide the School Board with: (1) a report from the project team addressing the deliverables described in this School Board Action Report; and (2) an identification of the funding source(s), both for start-up and long term, for the STEM program.
What are those deliverables?
In order to effectively implement the STEM program a project team has been identified, including a project manager and sponsor, and a statement of work has been created. The following are deliverables for the team:
• Identification of the appropriate STEM program model
• Development of a project budget and long-term costs for the program (note: this project team is not charged with identifying the funding source but rather with identifying the costs)
• Creation of a communications plan, including a plan for stakeholder engagement
• Identification of the necessary instructional skill sets to ensure staff are ready
• Creation of an implementation plan, including a readiness plan for the 09-10 Cleveland 9th graders, in preparation for a 2010-2011 continuation at CHS STEM
• Creation of a transition plan for those students who chose not to remain in the program
• Creation of an evaluation tool for the first, second and third years of implementation
First, I presume that the Board will forget that they put this requirement on the Superintendent. Second, I doubt that the superintendent will remember it for herself and provide the required deliverables. Third, even if I am surprised and the superintendent DOES provide some sort of "appropriate STEM program model" I doubt that it will have to be (or will be) very detailed. All of the rest can be sketched out on the back of a napkin. The Board requires these things but there are no established standards for these things so they must accept whatever the superintendent provides.
In the new Student Assignment Plan, the District's Enrollment Planning office assumes that 5% of all students in the attendance areas for the north-end schools will choose Cleveland STEM. What's more, the District expects 6.5% of the students in the Garfield attendance area to leave it for Cleveland. Right now, this appears to be an insane and absurd expectation. The only way it could become any kind of possible would be if Cleveland STEM actually offered something unique and truly rigorous, which could mean real math, real science, and real rigor.
The vast majority of the students now at Cleveland do not appear ready for that. Only 31 students (21.2%) in Cleveland's 10th grade class met the standard on the Math portion of the WASL in 2009. Of course, that's a huge improvement over last year's number of 12.2%. Only 22 (15.5%) met the standard on the science test. So who is going to do this advanced work?
The District expects 13% of the students in the Franklin and Rainier Beach attendance areas to choose Cleveland STEM. If that were to happen, and if they were choosing Cleveland STEM for the math and science rigor, that would represent a devastating brain drain on these schools. Only 17.6% of the tenth grade students at Rainier Beach passed the math portion of the WASL last year (none with a level 4 score). If 13% of that community's students left the school seeking more rigorous math, it would leave the school with very few students performing at grade level in math. The math pass rate at Franklin was 28%. Franklin would also be significantly altered if 13% of that school's students left in search of greater math challenge.
During Open Enrollment this year only 49 incoming 9th grade students named Cleveland as their first choice for assignment and only 88 were assigned there during open enrollment. By October 1, however, there were 244 9th grade students enrolled at Cleveland. Some of those students are second-year freshmen who did not earn five credits in their first year at Cleveland. I can't find a number for them. The rest are students who enrolled after open enrollment. Under the new student assignment plan, I don't think nearly as many students will be enrolled at Cleveland after open enrollment. Instead, I think that students who appear in April or later (there are obviously a lot of them) will be assigned to their attendance area high school. Since Cleveland will not be anyone's attendance area high school, there may not be many students added to Cleveland's 9th grade class after open enrollment. Moreover, the district will not be able to make mandatory assignments to Cleveland as they have in the past.
Without some serious work getting done very soon, Cleveland is likely to draw little more than 50 students into their incoming 9th grade class for next year. To prevent that disaster the District is going to have to take some strong steps and take them soon.
1. They are going to have to define the program. I haven't seen any sign that they are even close to doing this. They are divided between making the program authentic and rigorous versus making the program attractive, accessible, and accomodating to the under-performing students in the area. They need to resolve that conflict. I hope that they will decide to make it rigorous but to create supports for students who are not yet prepared for that rigor. Bad news: the District is really bad at this sort of decision and this sort of work. Good news: Princess Sharif, the Cleveland principal, is one of the few people around here who find that path and make it work.
2. They are going to have to connect with outside agencies to create those formal relationship with local STEM companies, institutions and universities that provide both students and faculty deliberate STEM projects and internships; where they engage with real math, science, and engineering. Bad news: the District is really bad at this.
3. They are going to have to engage the community about what sort of school they want Cleveland STEM to be. Bad news: the District is really bad at this.
4. They are going to have to promote the Cleveland STEM program to attract students to the program. This step has to come AFTER the previous three or they won't have anything to sell. Bad news: the District is really bad at this.
So unless the District starts developing and using new skills really fast, this program is going to be tiny, tiny, tiny.
Now for the flower growing in the cow chip. My 8th grade daughter, an APP student at Washington, may be very interested in Cleveland STEM if it is a rigorous and authentic math and science program. As a bonus, the school is within walking distance of our house. This could be really really good for her. Given the commitments made to this school and this program, if she were to enroll she could find herself in some very small classes with a lot of individual attention and tons of support. But wait, there's more. In addition, Cleveland was totally renovated just two years ago. The facility is gorgeous and state of the art. And they are getting more science labs this year as well.
If you have a student who is really looking for a rigorous math and science program, this opportunity could be a real bonanza. Since enrollment is likely to be low, you are practically guaranteed assignment upon request. The more high performing students who appear and demand rigor, the more that is what the school will provide. There is a lot of pride on the line for the District here and they need to make this school perform (or at least appear) as promised. This is a high profile effort on their part and one tied closely to a lot of public/private partnerships. There is a risk that they will water it down and wash it away, but I'm pretty sure that, even if they do, there will be some extraordinary opportunities here for the students who seize them.