2013-10-03 / Front Page

Out of STEAM?

By Tom Shevlin

A proposal to bring a Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) Charter School to Aquidneck Island will have to wait.

Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) officials on Tuesday notified members of the Newport County STEAM Academy (NCSA) that their application to locate a science and arts-based private school at the Boys and Girls Club in Historic Hill would not be recommended for approval before the state Board of Education, which will vote on the recommendation on Thursday, Oct. 3, in Providence.

In a letter dated Sept. 30, RIDE staff said, “In considering all available evidence, the Commissioner has decided to not recommend the NCSA application for approval by the Board of Education at this time.”

The founding group may, however, submit a new or revised proposal for consideration in a future review cycle.

“RIDE’s decision stems from specific concerns about the plan for education described in the proposal,” RIDE Charter School Coordinator Drew Allsopp said.

“RIDE’s review concluded that the proposal did not adequately provide a plan for education that: (a) would clearly prioritize and maintain a focus on a STEAM mission; (b) has fully conceptualized how to best meet the diverse needs of all students, particularly the two cohorts of students that would be targeted for enrollment (gifted students and traditionally underserved or disadvantaged students); (c) has provided the level of detail required to approve a program spanning grades K-12, with K-6 fully enrolling in the school’s first year.”

Still, the ruling provided a glimmer of hope for organizers, who since last spring have been advocating for a new educational paradigm for island school children focused on science, technology, art, and math.

“The NCSA proposal has considerable strengths,” Allsopp wrote. “For example, the written proposal convincingly establishes a need for an educational program that is focused on STEM education, and prepares students with the skills and expertise demanded by the region’s economy, creating opportunities and jobs.”

“This setback will give us the opportunity to recalibrate our application – for example, by leveraging national best practices – and provide RIDE more details on how we can launch and grow a highperforming public charter school,” said Mike Cullen, one of the project’s organizers. “NCSA’s past leaders, responsible for the initial March 2013 application, failed to include the level of detail that would have persuasively shown RIDE’s evaluators how the local needs would be addressed. We can now correct the shortcomings.”

According to Cullen, “This remains a rewarding, complex, and yes, controversial undertaking that needs more help from passionate and committed volunteers.”

To that end, Cullen is inviting the public to an informational session at the Middletown Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 2:30 p.m.

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