Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 9, 2014

STEAM Studio charter plan would weaken Andover schools

The Andover Townsman

---- — Editor, Townsman:

This letter comes from an Andover High School teacher of 15 years experience and her father who has 10 years of service on the Andover School Committee and 10 additional years of service on the Andover Finance Committee. Both of us have an interest in and passion for public education.

We are adamantly opposed to Mr. Birnbach’s proposed STEAM Studio charter school for several reasons. The establishment of a “STEAM” Academy implies that only those subjects are worthy of support and thus marginalizes all students whose interests lie outside of those disciplines. In reading Mr. Birnbach’s proposal, it is obvious that art has been included in only the most minimal way and the “Art” that the proposed school includes focuses solely on computer-assisted design. Thus, this school would not truly encompass all the facets of a STEAM school.

Should the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education approve such a school, it will set an unhealthy precedent. If the interests of a small group of students deserve this kind of attention, what about the interests of other students? Should the community also provide a Fine Arts Academy, a Communications Academy, an International Affairs and Foreign Language Academy, a Health Services Academy and schools for other equally worthwhile interests? A point of fact, it is the purpose of a comprehensive high school to serve this range of needs, which Andover High School already does exceedingly well.

In the majority of charter school cases, the DESE reassigns state money because those schools are located in districts that rely overwhelmingly on state funding for support. This is not the case in Andover. Less than 10 percent of Andover’s public school budget comes from state funding. Therefore, the proposed STEAM Academy would allow DESE to reassign local funding without the approval of local voters. That is a fundamental contradiction of the proud history of public education in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Along those same lines, as residents of this community for more than 30 years, we are appalled that an elected official would use his position on the School Committee to propose a project that would not only weaken Andover Public Schools, but would also enhance his own personal position. We vehemently urge you to deny Mr. Birnbach’s request for approval of the inappropriately named Andover STEAM Academy.

Mary Robb

116 Lowell St.

Donald Robb

36 York St.