Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 20, 2014

Lessons learned from STEAM Studio proposal

The Andover Townsman

---- — The decision last week not to award STEAM Studio high school a state charter to open this fall was ultimately the right one for Andover.

In its review of the proposed charter school, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recognized significant passion on the part of the STEAM Studio team, led by School Committee member David Birnbach.

It found the proposed school’s “emphasis on creative exploration and invention meaningful and consistent with high academic standards and student success.”

“The applicant group demonstrated a passionate understanding of and connection to the proposed mission and vision ... as well as a strong commitment to serve Andover and the surrounding communities,” its analysis said.

But passion does not a school make. In the end, the STEAM Studio proposal fell short of fully providing a new option to enhance the educational opportunities for local high-schoolers.

The state analysis ultimately identified 34 weaknesses, and only 14 strengths with the proposal, concluding the vision behind STEAM Studio “is not sufficiently developed or integrated into the implementation of a comprehensive educational program.”

There was limited information on how STEAM Studio would operate and no guarantee of enrollment to support the school’s opening this fall. In short, it lacked the concrete proof that it could succeed.

Then, there was the significant opposition — whether justified or not — surrounding the proposal from Andover school officials, teachers and parents, a factor that was weighed by the state in its final decision.

But while STEAM Studio may have rightfully failed to win state support, what it did succeed in doing was bringing more awareness and scrutiny to the educational structure at Andover High School.

We believe School Committee Chairman Dennis Forgue was correct in his observation that the potential competition posed by STEAM Studio raised the bar for Andover schools.

Andover has been singled out consistently for the strength of its school system. The education that the town provides its youngest residents has for years been a source of pride.

Birnbach and his team, however, identified areas where improvements are needed — in particular, the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM curriculum.

The School Department says it has been working right along to strengthen the STEM program at Andover High, with initiatives either under way or in development.

Still, some would argue the school district is not doing enough, or even possibly lagging behind. However, we believe whatever advancements can be made in the area of STEM education can be achieved within the existing framework of the school district in Andover.

A new charter school, which would have competed for valuable state funding, would have potentially impeded the district’s ability to continue making the strides necessary for Andover’s students to remain competitive in our changing world.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for Birnbach and his ideas. We encourage him to continue raising his concerns and pushing for changes and innovations from his seat on the School Committee.

In the past, some of his ideas have fallen on deaf ears. We hope this process leads his fellow school board members to be more receptive going forward for we believe by working together, Andover High School can aspire to the next level in helping shape the next generation to lead today’s technology-driven world.