STEM rises

FI-EditorialIt’s always nice to see the Board of Education completely united on something. It’s even better when that something looks as if it can actually directly help Greenwich students.

Barring an unforeseen and dramatic shift, tonight the board is poised to approve a new magnet school program for Hamilton Avenue School and do it both unanimously and enthusiastically. And the board members should be enthusiastic about this. The term “game changer” has been overused in all spheres lately, but this new magnet program has the potential to be just that.

It could give a shot in the arm to hard-working Hamilton Avenue students and teachers eager to show off what they are capable of and also be a true magnet that draws in students from all over the district to learn from a method that lays the vital foundation to prepare them not only for college but for a job market desperate for trained workers. Wouldn’t it be nice to address both racial balance and student achievement?

The program is called science, technology, math and engineering, better known as STEM. These kinds of highly regarded programs are designed to better prepare students for the 21st-Century work for which companies, particularly here in Connecticut, cannot find enough qualified American workers. But they do not come with a narrow focus. The inquiry-based method encompasses all subjects, and the board and the superintendent have pledged to continue the school’s thriving Suzuki program and arts education.

This is good news for the Hamilton Avenue School community after years of false starts, underfunded ideas and broken promises, and that’s not even touching the infamously bungled construction of the new building. The board has said this school is a priority, not just to deal with state-mandated racial balance but for student achievement above all. Commitments have been made and they must now be kept. This action, with administration, faculty and parent buy-in, is an excellent first step.

More has to be done, of course. Now that STEM has been chosen, it will take a while to set it up right, and it’s not a magic wand. It’s a course of study that is expected to show long-term dividends, but the board and district leadership need to be patient. They have said they will be, and there are positive signs that promise is going to be kept.

Much of the credit has to go to Superintendent of Schools William McKersie. He’s not only pushed this forward but he’s made a commitment and put money where his mouth is by announcing his intention to seek a full-time coach to help develop and implement the STEM program without first having BET and RTM approval for it. This is a risk, he fully admits, but a necessary one.

For this to work, Greenwich is going to have to commit to it, and that means finding the best, most capable personnel to make sure the program is implemented correctly. Hiring early is critical, and Greenwich needs to act to find the best qualified candidate in the coming months without having to worry about BET and RTM penny-pinching and paralysis through over-analysis. It’s not as though Dr. McKersie is corrupting the budget process. He’s just getting ahead of the curve, and it’s the right thing to do.

This has been a long time coming, and while there’s much more to do, it’s a tremendous first step.

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