Vancouver district board approves science, technology magnet school

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



Vancouver’s school board has approved a new magnet school that will provide an educational focus in science, technology, engineering and math.

The school will open in the fall of 2012. District officials haven’t zeroed in on a campus yet, said Todd Horenstein, Vancouver’s assistant superintendent for facility support services.

Another time line is moving at a much faster pace: In early to mid-January, the application window will open for all the district’s magnet schools, Horenstein said. After the schools offer presentations and open houses, applications will be due in February.

The school — its working title is Magnet STEM School of Choice — will be part of a collaborative effort to improve high-tech education in Clark County.

Clark College, Washington State University Vancouver, Educational Service District 112 and local K-12 school districts are working with local industries to provide mentors and real-world learning opportunities.

STEM education is a concern across the country, Horenstein said.

“There is a call for more education to prepare this country for the next century of work,” Horenstein said. It’s particularly important in Washington, he said, given the state’s high-tech industries and space-age companies.

“Together with our higher education and business partners, we envision a STEM school that nurtures and develops the creativity and innovation of our students, equipping them for post-secondary success,” board President Mark Stoker said in an email message.

But don’t think that the STEM school will be a technical institute. It will provide a liberal arts education, Stoker said, “through problem-based, applied learning experiences.”

The school will be similar to Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. It’s a combined middle school/high school campus where students work on projects that include

several different classes — arts-based courses as well as standard curriculum.

Enroll in stages

And like the arts magnet, the STEM school will begin with a staged enrollment over its first couple of years before reaching a full complement of students in grades six through 12.

When classes open in 2012 the middle school will have sixth- and seventh-graders, while the high school will be limited to ninth- and tenth-graders.

“Initially, we will have 50 to 60 students per grade. That’s fairly small, because of a combination of starting up and limited space,” Horenstein said.

In the second year, the middle school will have students in grades 6-7-8, and the high school will have students in grades 9-10-11.

In 2014, the high school will have its first class of seniors.

“We anticipate 700 students at full build-out. That’s 100 students per grade,” he said. The district will work to find a location for the school in January.

Horenstein and Anne Kennedy, director of STEM education at ESD 112, are co-leaders of Vancouver’s STEM planning program.

In a significant step, the high school also will offer early college courses.

“Kids will be able to earn a year of college credit at STEM,” Horenstein said.

Students at other high schools have been earning college credit through Running Start, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs. But these students will take college courses in STEM classrooms. The classes will be taught by Vancouver Public Schools faculty members who have done the work to be certified in their subjects as adjunct professors.