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STEM schools getting a good grade

New schools off to good start, superintendent says

Jan. 4, 2011

Waukesha — With one semester under its belt, the new Waukesha STEM Academy is receiving thumbs up from the Waukesha School District's top administrator.

"So far it's been very good for a first year school," said Superintendent Todd Gray. "It has started well and we've exceeded expectations."

Two charter schools for K-8 students opened their doors this fall that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math. Those areas of emphasis are embodied in the name of the school, STEM Academy.

Gray said the staff is adapting to the curriculum with some adjustments still taking place. Teachers team-teach with as many as three or four teachers in a classroom at a time. Students are exposed to hybrid concepts learning the four specific groups in connection with the other disciplines, such as reading, writing, history and the arts.

Students receive "differentiated instruction in the core academic areas in addition to daily opportunity to apply and use their knowledge to solve problems, create, innovate and work in teams to develop team leadership skills. STEM concepts and methodologies will be integrated throughout all curricular areas," according to the district's website.

Gray said for the future the curriculum would be expanded as well as being expanded to other schools.

About 760 students are enrolled in the STEM Academy and Gray said the comments he has heard from parents are "all very, very positive."

"We'll see how it goes throughout the year," he said.

The schools are housed in the former Saratoga and Randall elementary schools.

Changes at the high schools

The district is now looking at coordinating schedules in the three high schools with the thought of having one particular class held in one high school. Gray said there are some subjects that have small enrollments and rather than having three separate courses taught by three separate teachers, it would more sense to offer just one class in one school.

"One school may host a specific program," he said, rather than spreading it out over three schools.

The move would mean preserving the subjects, possibly offering new subjects due to more classroom space, and saving district dollars, he said.

In order to do that all the schools would need to start at the same time, Gray said.

The district is also looking at creating a half hour optional period for students. That period would be set up to assist struggling students or allow gifted and talented students to work on projects, Gray said.

The School Board has signed off on the schedule but it still needs to be ratified by the teachers' union, he said.

White Rock status

Also on the agenda is White Rock School, which may be closed or may be used for another purpose such as a bilingual school, Gray said.

"There is also talk about a fine arts school for K-5," he said.

With a lot of talk about charter schools and offering options and choices, Gray said, "why wait for charter schools, let's create them here in Waukesha."

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