Board hears STEM Academy proposal

Members of the Ector County ISD Board of Trustees heard about a possible partnership with the University of Texas STEM Academy on Tuesday.

The board will consider approving starting negotiations next Tuesday. If the proposal goes forward, a contract will be brought back to the board in March.

Trustees Nelson Minyard and Delma Abalos were absent.

At the Dec. 7 meeting, the board seemed agreeable to the partnership and its programs.

The team from STEM Academy was on hand in case trustees had further questions.

Through ECISD’s Call for Quality Schools, UTPB STEM successfully completed a rigorous process conducted by a diverse committee that included an application screening, partner capacity interview, and overall evaluation using a TEA model rubric.

ECISD and the University of Texas Permian Basin have a strong partnership represented by student dual credit offerings, Opportunity Culture collaboration, talent pipeline support, and career and technical education offerings, supplemental agenda material stated.

The partnership with STEM Academy will allow ECISD to expand high quality choice offerings to students in the district with a chance to learn on the campus at UTPB.

Superintendent Shannon Davidson said the campus, which is a university charter, is serving students from Ector and Midland counties.

Currently the school has 770 students and 39 teachers in grades kinder through 12. The charter is delegated to the President of UTPB, and is approved for an enrollment of up to 3,900 students, the board recap said.

The UTPB STEM calendar is 180 days of instruction, from 7:50 a.m. until 2:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday; on Fridays the school dismisses at noon.

The early dismissals allow students to continue learning online, work with tutors and interventions, and allow professional development for staff, the recap said.

The school uses Project-based and STEM-based learning. A partnership would give UTPB STEM students access to ECISD’s fine arts and athletics.

The district could also help with facilities, counseling services, transportation and food services, the recap said. Davidson said STEM Academy is a one-to-one campus so all students have a computer or tablet.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) is the curriculum. The school is STEM based and there are three pathways offered for high school — biomedical, engineering and computer programming.

All pathways provide situational learning experiences, Davidson said.

In 2021, the campus had a 95 percent graduation rate. Dual credit with University of Texas Permian Basin also is promoted and courses are paid for by the STEM Academy.

Davidson said parent partnerships are “truly the backbone of our students’ success.”

Ninety-seven percent of the STEM Academy’s revenues come from student attendance with 3 percent from federal grants, Davidson said.

Assistant Superintendent of Student and School Support Alicia Syverson said the benefits to ECISD would be that the partnership would provide an additional school choice option for ECISD families.

It would provide a future middle school option; a collaborative partnership with shared resources; it would create a sense of post secondary belief/hope, she said.

Syverson said Tuesday night was just a presentation and before they engage in any negotiations they want to have the board’s blessing.

Superintendent Scott Muri said the partnership has been an ongoing discussion.

Syverson said it would be an opportunity for incoming kindergarteners.

Davidson said STEM Academy generally has more openings in high school because students leave for athletics and fine arts.

Muri said part of the partnership would include working with STEM Academy to address facility needs. Right now, he said, the school’s facilities can last for a short time.

Having more space would allow STEM Academy to increase its capacity, Muri said.

“… I think it would be good for the whole community,” Davidson said.

On a separate item, trustees heard a presentation on Early Childhood Education.

Kindergarten readiness is one of ECISD’s strategic priorities and that can be measured in several ways: Physical (gross and fine motor skills); Literacy (reading and writing); Mathematical (concepts and thinking); Language and Communication; and Health and Wellness, the recap said.

According to figures from the meeting, 33.2 percent of students are kindergarten ready. The goal was 40 percent for the 2021 school year, but the statistics are two years behind, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jaime Miller said.

To improve Kindergarten Readiness, ECISD added a 3-year-old prekindergarten program, opening PK-3 classrooms at Carver and Lamar early childhood centers and through an innovative partnership with the Odessa Family YMCA.

Those schools combined with the PK-3 program at Austin Montessori, 396 students are enrolled now, the recap said. Another avenue to improve kindergarten readiness was begun a year ago when ECISD expanded PK-4 to a full day of instruction, the recap said. This year, PK-4 is available at 18 campuses across ECISD with an enrollment of 1,331. Student progress is tracked through the use of the Circle Assessment, and personalized professional learning for pre-k teachers, the recap said.

The board also heard an update on special services delivered by ECISD’s Special Education Department. The primary disability categories are autism, intellectual disability, specific learning disability, and speech/language impairment.

There are 3,156 students receiving special education services this year, more than the 3,040 a year ago.

The recap said more than 1,400 students receive speech therapy, and one method is speech teletherapy. It is offered at 10 elementary schools and one middle school for 485 students who were part of more than 14,685 sessions, the recap said.

The Transition Learning Center/18 Plus is located near Odessa High School and trains students for the workplace and life after high school.

ECISD hosts the Regional Day School for the Deaf serving 21 area school districts. Results Driven Accountability shows the program to be at Performance Level 3 for Academic Data, and Performance Level 2 for Graduation Rate, Dropout Rate and Disciplinary Removal Rate. The best rating is Level 1, the recap said.

A Texas Education Agency Desk Review of student files found ECISD compliant in all 15 of the 15 reviews.

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