published Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Hamilton County gets STEM school grant funding

Space in the rear of this former Olan Mills building will be the site of a STEM school at the Chattanooga State campus. The Wacker Institute is already operating in the front of the building.
Space in the rear of this former Olan Mills building will be the site of a STEM school at the Chattanooga State campus. The Wacker Institute is already operating in the front of the building.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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NASHVILLE -- Now that Tennessee has given Hamilton County Schools a $1 million grant to help start a local school focused on science, technology, engineering and math, the "hard work begins," Superintendent Rick Smith said.

"We're excited. We worked really, really hard the last, gosh, eight months to prepare for today," said Smith, who came to Nashville on Monday to watch Gov. Bill Haslam announce a total of $4.85 million in grants to fund three STEM schools and three STEM "hubs" in Hamilton, Cookeville and the Tri-Cities area.

"Of course," Smith added, "right now the hard work begins. You know, we've got a lot of preparation ... but now we've got to get busy actually building a school."

The school is slated to open for 75 ninth-grade students this fall and will be in the former Olan Mills building that sits next to the main campus of Chattanooga State Community College. The building was purchased by Chattanooga State in 2010.

Smith said he was eager to get back to Chattanooga and begin work on readying a 17,000-square-foot school that must open in August. About $750,000 from local business and industry will help finance the build-out of vacant space that's next to the Wacker Institute at the college.

"When we get back to Chattanooga, we have a planning meeting to actually think about doing some renovation starting this week," Smith said. "We're going to have to do some tear out."

In addition to the $1 million grant for the STEM school, which is intended to bolster integrated, advanced high school course work for selected students, Hamilton County also received an $850,000 grant for a STEM "hub."

The hub is a partnership among the school district, higher-education institutions, STEM-related or innovative businesses and the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Education Foundation, said foundation President Dan Challener.

"The hub is a strategy to spread the learning across the region for teachers, for principals, community-based organizations and to bring the business community in to help develop lessons, programs to help have real-life applications," said Challener, who also came to Nashville for the announcement.

The hub will serve not only Hamilton County schools but 16 school districts in 10 Southeast Tennessee counties, officials said.

The high-tech high school will start with about 75 ninth-graders and reach about 300 students within four years, officials have said. Students will be selected by lottery, Smith has said.

In announcing the grants, Haslam said, "Bringing partners from across our communities to educate Tennessee students in the field of science, technology, engineering and math is so important to the future prosperity of our state.

"The jobs of the 21st century require the practical, hands-on, college-oriented and career-aligned curriculum that STEM offers, and we must prepare our children to compete."

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about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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