I know you're all probably tired of hearing the daily STEM news story, but this one is GOOD.
The Board discussed STEM at a work session on Wednesday afternoon, January 27. It began with Michael Tolley delivering a memo that clarified some misunderstood points and answered some questions from the Board. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson was there but let Mr. Tolley do all of the talking.
Then Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris described their visit to an NTN high school in Sacramento.
Most of the Board members asked a few vague questions and got a few vague answers. The only memorable point to come out of this is that NTN is about project-based learning, not exclusively about STEM. So a lot of the NTN schools are not STEM schools, but all of them employ project-based learning.
Then just as it looked like it was going to end, the good stuff came out. Director DeBell started asking questions about the performance numbers from NTN schools. He mentioned Dan Dempsey (who was there sitting next to me) and the doubts about the numbers that had been previously reported. Mr. Tolley said that he didn't have those numbers but that they were getting them ready. Mr. DeBell reminded Mr. Tolley that they had asked for those numbers before and didn't get them. Director DeBell is leading a trend in which members of the Board remember the questions that they ask that don't get answers. Answers are promised, but they don't come. That used to happen all the time without notice, but now the Board members are starting to notice it and ask the questions again and mention that they had asked them before. It is an extremely promising trend.
Let me note here that the numbers Mr. DeBell asked for - and was promised - are readily available. Federal law requires schools to report this data publicly. It's part of NCLB. The data is online and can be found in minutes. If the staff hasn't provided the numbers it can only be because either they haven't looked for them or they have them but don't want to report them.
Then came the most wonderful part of all. Director Smith-Blum - who is rapidly becoming my favorite Board Director of all time - said that she asked her intern to research the availability of comprehensive STEM programs and, within a few minutes online, found that Project Lead the Way offers a comprehensive suite of services that are essentially equivalent to the one offered by NTN, but with longer training for the teachers and at a fraction of the cost. In this time of tight budgets, we need to seriously consider alternatives before we plunk down nearly a million dollars for some outside help. She then passed out copies of Project Lead the Way literature for each board member.
Now Dr. Goodloe-Johnson found her voice.
She said that there has been a STEM Steering Committee that worked on this for a long time and chose the NTN program as the only one that was comprehensive.
Yes, said Director Smith-Blum, and we have asked you for information on that selection process but have not received any. (There's that trend again!) With the previous mention of requested answers not appearing this created the sense that this was a recurring problem with the staff ignoring Board requests. It put the superintendent a little further into the hole.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said that the NTN materials were multi-disciplined, not just engineering, like Project Lead the Way, but for humanities and the arts as well.
Director Smith-Blum said that the Project Lead the Way folks told her that their program was comprehensive too, covering all kinds of classes and providing materials, lesson plans, a national network of teachers, the whole kit and kaboodle. She also noted that we already had a Project Lead the Way class at Cleveland and at several other schools. They are already our partners. Moreover, they are already approved with federal grant money.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson started sputtering - yeah, sputtering - about how there wasn't enough time...
Director Smith-Blum said that she contacted the folks at Project Lead the Way and asked them if they could complete a contract and have everything in place for the Fall and they said that they could.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson then said that they had gone too far down the NTN road to break it off now.
This troubled me because the Board had not yet approved the contract. I'd hate to think that she had painted them into a corner and created a situation in which they were somehow obligated to approve the NTN contract.
Well, with one thing and another the end result was that the Board offered the superintendent the guiding suggestion that she provide them with information about the comparable services available from Project Lead the Way.
Directors DeBell and Smith-Blum really impressed me. First, for saying out loud that they had been asking questions and haven't been getting answers. Second, for doing some of their own research. Director Smith-Blum then really impressed by
1) Getting an intern. What a freakin' brilliant move.
2) Giving the intern this assignment
3) Bringing the materials to the work session. That was the cherry on top.
I'm impressed and delighted.