STEM Open House this morning began with people drifting around a gym filled with booths from STEM "partners". The skeptical quotes are because many of the groups represented, such as UW School of Dentistry, didn't actually have any plans to partner with STEM.
At 10:00 the presentation began with Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson reading powerpoint slides to the audience. When will she stop doing that? Why does she do it? Does she think that we can't read? Does she have nothing to add? It creates the impression that this is the first time that she is seeing the slides. The woman commits death by powerpoint at every opportunity.
Not only was the superintendent there, but so was Susan Enfield, the CAO, and Michael Tolley, the High Schools Director, and, oddly, Don Kennedy, the CFOO. Two school board directors attended, Sherry Carr and Peter Maier. I was disappointed that the Director for the Southeast, Betty Patu, was not there.
They ran through a slide presentation and then people could continue to wander among the booths in the gym, visit classrooms, or attend and Q & A session. I went to the Q & A.
First, the Open House was well-attended. I'd say that if you distilled it down there were about 100 rising eighth graders represented. I'm ready to increase my estimate for STEM freshman enrollment to 50-100. In the Q & A some people asked "What if the school fills up?" or "What if the academy my child wants is full?" I don't think they have anything to worry about.
I would also say that there were not 10 black students in that group. About half of the crowd was Asian and the rest, except for a handful of Latinos, were white. The student population in that building is going to change and I honestly don't think that the school or the district are at all ready for it. Right now, Cleveland is 46% African-American. Right now, the bulk of Cleveland students come to the school working below grade level. That was Cleveland. STEM, on the other hand, is going to be predominantly Asian and the bulk of students will come to the school working at or beyond grade level.
The staff don't really seem to be ready for that. For example, when asked about freshmen taking world languages to continue the work they started in middle school, the academic dean said that historically they don't get many incoming students who took a foreign language in middle school. That reflects a poor understanding of the fact that Cleveland history is over and STEM history is going to be different. Likewise with music. I just don't think they are ready for the kind of students they are going to be getting.
The Cleveland staff also seem strangely reluctant to mix grades. They would say things like "Sure, a 9th grader could take a world language, but they would be in a class full of older students." as if this represented any sort of problem or concern at all. It doesn't. They acted like it was some kind of extraordinary accommodation for a freshman to take Geometry in a class of sophomores. It's not. I just don't think it has been happening much at Cleveland before this.
I get the feeling that the district, and some others, don't want the school to change. The speakers kept saying, over and over, that students can come to STEM even if they are struggling with math or science. They repeated that message a lot. All skill levels are welcome. The problem, of course, is that very few students who struggle with math will want to take extra math. If they come to STEM they will be taking double math for years. They will have to take double math as a freshman because they are behind, then they will have to take double math in the 10th grade to get ahead. Plus additional math if they are still having trouble. Some of the groups that have been partnering with Cleveland, such as L.A.M.P., also told me that they will work to reduce the change in the demographic. by encouraging low performing students - and particularly African-American students - to enroll.
They don't seem to be ready for transfers. I heard something in their voices that made me think that a lot of Cleveland students will be leaving the school after this year, that not many of the current 9th graders want to stay and be a part of STEM and that not many of the current 10th and 11th graders want to stay and be part of the College Readiness Academy. I don't have any numbers - I don't think they do either - but there was this weird ring of fear in their voices when answering questions about that. They said that students could, of course, come to Cleveland or leave it at any grade.
The cut in the budget - and the resulting loss of the extended day for all students - will have significant impacts on the schedule. There will be fewer opportunities for students to take electives and they will have to take most of them either before or after school. Again, I don't think they appreciate how many students this will be. The extended day will be required of students who struggle with the math or science. That will constrain those students' opportunity to take electives or participate in extra-curricular activities. STEM has higher graduation requirements than the rest of Seattle Public Schools, including four years of math, Calculus (which requires a fifth year of math for students who are the standard pace), four years of science, four years of language arts, two years of world languages, and three years of social studies. That's 18 credits right there. They also still have their P.E., arts, and CTE requirements as well. It is essentially CORE 24 plus a fifth year of math. I'm not sure how students are going to be able to do all of this in a six-period day in four years.
Neither are they. The schedule and the scheduling remains an unsolved puzzle. They were having trouble with it before WITH the extended day and they are having even more trouble with it now. They can't figure out how to accommodate music or world languages for 9th and 10th grade students. They say that the NTN has resources and sample schedules that will help with this.
Transportation is also proving a challenge. Cleveland is poorly served by METRO. The only bus that goes there is the 60 which runs only twice an hour and goes to Georgetown in the south and First Hill and Capitol Hill in the north. It doesn't go to any major transfer points. There is a light rail station on Beacon Hill, but it's a half-hour walk from the school. The 36 offers frequent service, but has its closest stop about twenty minutes' walk from the school. A shuttle service that runs from the school to the light rail station with a stop for transfers from the 36 would be helpful, but they just heard the idea today. They can't promise yellow bus service in advance, but will provide it if there are enough students from a neighborhood who have enrolled at the school. That's not much assurance.
I don't know how much trouble they are having with the budget. They say that they need $1.6 million to fund the first two years and that they have all but $180,000 of it. They say that once they have the school up and running they will qualify for all kinds of grants. They acted very confident about the money, but they also cut the extended day to reduce costs. I can't really say that I trust them on this.
Finally, one last item on the negative side, a father of a current Cleveland 11th grader said that his son enrolled when Cleveland had three academies. Then the next year the school had only two academies. Now the school is putting his son and all of the other upper-classmen into one academy. Given this track record, he asked why anyone should sign up for STEM not knowing if the District would sustain the commitment to the program. It was a sticky question for the staff to answer, in large part because none of them had been with the school or, in some cases, the District, for as long as three years. They could only say that they had the bulk of the funding in hand for two years.
On the positive side: STEM will offer "wall-to-wall" project-based learning. The teachers have been getting exposure to this teaching style all year. That means that although they will have the District-approved textbooks as a resource, it is unlikely to be even the primary material used in the math classes. They have been told that so long as they cover the knowledge and skills required by the District-adopted curriculum, there won't be any conflict between STEM's project based learning and the District's curriculum alignment effort.
So on one hand you have a building that isn't really ready for the change that is coming in the students, but they are more ready with the lessons than I had thought, they are nearly there with the budget, which may be close enough, they haven't figured out the schedule, but it looks like they will, and they don't know how they will get the kids to the school. None of these are insurmountable obstacles. On the good side is project-based learning, lots of science, and an escape from Discovery math.
STEM looks better and better to me and my family. My daughter is looking for a small school, and I am convinced that STEM will be small. She is looking for project-based learning and they are definitely going to have that. She wants to escape the "Discovery" math, and it looks like STEM will offer an escape from it. She is looking for a lot of science, and oh boy will she have that. I think she is going to LOVE the project-based learning. Transportation isn't a problem because we live close and she doesn't care that music opportunities will be constrained because she isn't interested in music. I really can't imagine a better fit for her.