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Students and parents explore the L&N station during the grand opening of the Knox County STEM Academy on Friday in Knoxville. STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, is an initiative to boost science and math education in elementary and middle schools. The station, built in 1905 and included in the National Register of Historic Places, saw its last passenger train in 1968.

The Hamilton County Department of Education will explore grant funding for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math school -- better known as a STEM school -- but officials must act fast if they want to compete in the state's next round of funding.

The Tennessee STEM Innovation Network met with local school and business leaders Monday at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Business Development Center to discuss its upcoming round of grant funding, which would provide nearly $2 million in funding for selected schools.

The network, a partnership of the Tennessee Department of Education and the Batelle Memorial Institute, the world's largest independent research and development organization, is modeled after a similar program in Ohio and funded by Tennessee's federal Race to the Top grant.

The network will consider funding one school and an affiliated "hub" to house all partnering organizations in both middle and east Tennessee -- Nashville and Knoxville each already operate network STEM schools. Applications for funding will be open from September to December, and any approved schools would need to open by next fall.

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Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith speaks to the media in this file photo.

"That's a very aggressive timeline," said Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith. "It very much means we will have to get going soon."

Regional business partners are integral in the process because STEM schools exist to create a pipeline from school to college and ultimately to careers, said Anne Pope, co-director of the STEM network. While schools must demonstrate "robust" partnerships, Pope said the means in which schools do that is flexible.

"The idea is you connect the existing talents. You don't want to recreate the wheel again," she said. "In some ways, we want you all to throw things on the wall and see what sticks."

Smith said the STEM concept is similar to other schools of choice in Hamilton County, such as the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts and the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.

"It sounds a lot like our magnet schools," he said.

But to receive funding from the state, STEM schools must meet certain requirements in the grant competition.

Sky Gallegos, co-director of the network, said network-funded schools may look similar to other STEM schools, which focus heavily on science and math. But to receive funding, applicants must demonstrate that they will:

• Operate nonselective schools that reflect the community's demographics;

• Involve K-12 schools, higher education institutions and business partners;

• Share information and ideas freely;

• Serve as incubators for new STEM concepts.

While most STEM schools in Ohio and the two current Tennessee schools are high schools, organizers said elementary school proposals also would be considered. Once area businesses and colleges are involved, Smith said Hamilton County will explore both options as well as considering a new building or transforming an existing school into a STEM building.

"We've got to get the players to the table," he said.

Contact Kevin Hardy at or 423-757-6249.

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