Hamilton County readies STEM school plan

Hamilton County readies STEM school plan

March 12th, 2012 by Mike Pare in News

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 /Times Free Press.

STEM school

STEM school

Photo by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Hamilton County is making plans to move ahead with a high school focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) this fall at Chattanooga State Community College.

Officials said Monday they expect an announcement from Gov. Bill Haslam next week about a $1.85 million grant for the proposed new STEM school.

"We believe we've been successful in that. We'll hear how strong our proposal was," County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said, speaking to the board of the city's Enterprise Center, which pushes high-tech economic development in the area.

Kelli Gauthier, the Tennessee Department of Education's communications director, declined to comment on whether the county would get the grant.

Smith said he's hopeful of starting work as early as next week to ready 17,000 square feet at Chattanooga State. About $750,000 from business and industry will finance the build-out of vacant space that's next to the new Wacker Institute, according to plans.

The site is in a former Olan Mills building that sits next to the main Chattanooga State campus and was purchased by the school in 2010.

"Part of the reason we're here is Wacker and other programs on campus," Smith said. "We'll use technology in a much more important way."

According to plans, the high-tech high school will start with about 75 ninth-graders and reach about 300 students within four years. Students will be selected by lottery, Smith said.

"We'd try to make sure all 16 high schools are engaged on campus," he said.

The plan is to start classes at the beginning of the school year in August, Smith said.

He said the high school would be paperless, instead using computers, iPads and smartphones.

Wayne Cropp, who heads the Enterprise Center, said the city needs to provide the jobs of the future.

"The job market is changing," he said.

Jim Hall, chairman of the center's board, said the STEM high school needs to be engaged with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Smith said a STEM school would help "keep the best and brightest here. We've lost a lot of the best and the brightest."

Students at the STEM school would "give up their home high schools." he said. "They would stay here and receive a full-blown high school experience. We'd figure out graduation as we get closer to that."

Enterprise Center board member Greg Vital said such a school would serve not just Hamilton County but others in the region as well.

Patsy Hazlewood, the state Department of Economic and Community Development's regional director and an Enterprise Center board member, said while unemployment is high, there are jobs available but people don't have the skill sets. A STEM school would help provide those skills.

"Job opportunities are going unfilled," she said.

Contact staff writer Mike Pare at mpare@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6318.