STEM school to be placed at Chattanooga State Community College

STEM school to be placed at Chattanooga State Community College

December 9th, 2011 by Kevin Hardy in News

Bob Best, Unum executive vice president of global services

Photo by Ashlie White

A proposed high-tech Hamilton County high school could hold 300 students on the campus of Chattanooga State Community College.

The county aims to apply for about $1.8 million in state grant funding to open a Science, Technology, Math and Engineering, or STEM, school here next fall.

At a meeting Thursday night, organizers said they plan to put the new STEM school in part of the former Olan Mills building next to the Chattanooga State campus and bought by the school in 2010.

The school would add 75 freshmen each year, reaching 300 students by its fourth year, officials said. Parents planning the school said it would use buses to draw students from all areas of the county.

"Students from all different walks of life need to be in this school," said Tracey Carisch, one of the parents working on the STEM initiative.

At the meeting, Hamilton County Board of Education members heard from parents and business, education and community leaders about their plans for the new school.

The STEM school will cost about $2.1 million in its first year to operate, with about $425,000 coming from the school system, officials said. Another $410,000 is budgeted to come from local business partners while $496,000 is budgeted in grants, they said.

Chattanooga State will kick in about $783,500 in cash and in-kind services.

For funding to be approved, the school system must display partnerships among higher education, businesses and philanthropic groups.

Talley Clower, senior vice president at Cohutta Bank, said most of the school district's financial responsibility won't necessarily mean coming up with new money because personnel simply could be transferred from other schools.

At the meeting, several business leaders encouraged the proposed school, noting the effect it would have on the local workforce.

Bob Best, Unum executive vice president of global services, said his industry's need for employees has changed in the last few years. While insurance professionals primarily worked independently in the past, they now must be collaborative, critical thinkers capable in technology, he said.

All those things, he said, would be mastered in the STEM school.

"It's very important to our business," Best said, "but I think it's important to the growth of our community, as well."

Chattanooga State has provided job training and screening for dozens of businesses in recent years. School President Jim Catanzaro said he often hears from employers about their need for skilled workers.

"One thing that's loud and clear is that we just do not have the pool of workers that we ought to have," he said. "And we need to change that."

Cantanzaro said the Olan Mills building already has state-of-the-art chemistry, physics and physical science labs.

The college also plans to move its visual arts and engineering programs into the same building, he said, putting the high school students among college students and professionals.

"What better way to inspire young people?" he said.

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