Jan. 22, 2014
By Tara Cavanaugh
The AAPS Board of Education discussed a possible K-8 STEAM program at Northside Elementary, the location of alternative high school programs and expanding preschool and Young 5 programming during the afternoon at its annual retreat on Jan. 22 at Skyline High School.
(Related story: In the morning session of BOE retreat, AAPS Superintendent Dr. Swift shared results from the Listen and Learn tour and possible action steps.)
Northside was selected for the K-8 STEAM program because at 185 students, it is at 35 percent occupancy; also, parents expressed interest in a K-8 program at the Listen and Learn community forums on Nov. 21.
Northside could accommodate up to 500 students. Dr. Swift anticipates the program would attract students in the Northside area who have chosen other schools as well as students in Washtenaw County.
If the program is adopted, Northside students would have the option of being grandfathered in or choosing another school.
Teaching staff will also have the option of working in the new program or at another AAPS building Swift said.
The Northside program would be focused on STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and math –– education in a project-based learning environment. Students would use technology in order to complete projects, said Merri Lynn Colligan, the AAPS director of instructional technology.
“Getting STEAM into a K-8 program would be unique,” Dr. Swift said. Few elementary programs across the country feature a focus on STEAM education.
Toyota is also interested in the possibility of a STEAM school at Northside, Dr. Swift said. Toyota has worked with the district on a pilot STEAM program and this summer the company sent AAPS teachers and administrators to Singapore to learn more about STEAM initiatives.
Alternative high school programs, namely the possibility of a campus that houses all AAPS alternative high school offerings, also prompted a lot of discussion at Wednesday’s retreat.
The Pathways to Success Campus, at the current A2 Tech location, would serve as headquarters for the alternative programs: Roberto Clemente, A2 Tech, the GED and Options Program, Adult Education.
Dr. Swift said she hopes to give keep the schools separate within the building, such as “A2 Tech at the Pathways to Success Campus” and “Roberto Clemente at the Pathways to Success Campus.”
Putting the schools together in one building “means we are committed to giving them more,” said Dr. Swift, such as media specialists, social workers, and health services.
“My commitment is to those staffs: is if we can get you together through economy of scale we can give you more,” said Dr. Swift.
The Board and Superintendent also discussed a new preschool program that would include Great Start Readiness Program and a tuition-based preschool at Allen and Thurston elementary schools.
The proposal is for two classrooms at each building for a total of four classrooms. The tuition-based and GSRP students would be blended in both classes.
The advantage is that because all GSRP slots would likely be filled, the tuition-based program would be able to exist, said Dr. Swift. One potential difficulty of a tuition-based preschool program is the possibility of not filling all of the open spots.
Along with adding a new preschool program, the board is considering an expansion of the Young 5 program. Jane Landefeld, the AAPS director of student accounting and research, said there are two main reasons to expand the program: a bigger program would reach more students and would also provide instruction for students who are deemed too young for kindergarten.
State of Michigan age requirements for kindergarten are changing. Last year’s kindergarteners had to be age 5 by Nov. 1; this year’s kindergarteners need to be age 5 by Oct. 1. The state will roll back the date until kindergartners need to be age 5 by Sept. 1 in 2015 in order to attend kindergarten.
Another way to attract more students to AAPS is the possibility of a 1:1 technology program at Bryant and Pittsfield elementary schools. This means students would have a device to use during the day at school. “We chose schools where there are slots open,” said Dr. Swift.
“At this point we are very comfortable doing elementary language or elementary devices in order to (attract more students to AAPS), particularly around our perimeters,” she added.
The district’s new A2 Virtual+ Academy, which will offer a full online course catalog this fall, is doing well, reported Colligan, the district’s director of instructional technology. There are 222 high school requests and 7 middle school requests from students outside the AAPS district to take online courses in Fall 2015. Those numbers will likely increase as students still have until Feb. 7 to make their requests.
The BOE and Superintendent Swift concluded the meeting by talking about assessing Dr. Swift’s progress. Board President Mexicotte plans to propose a plan to get bids from companies to create an evaluation that would be available on the district website.