UTPB to pursue ECISD partnership for STEM

After considering its options, the University of Texas Permian Basin intends to pursue a partnership with Ector County ISD to provide a “positive path forward” for the STEM Academy.

A charter school on the UTPB campus, it has 800 students in grades kindergarten through 12, Superintendent Shannon Davidson said. It just had its first graduating class this May.

A STEM Task Force consisting of STEM parents, teachers and university leaders was charged with identifying viable options that addressed the goals of maintaining the STEM academic model; maintaining access for teachers, staff and students; and providing a pathway for permanent facilities to meet the long-term needs of the school, said a letter from UTPB President Sandra Woodley to parents.

“This unique partnership will allow STEM to continue to provide the same amazing learning choice for the community while enhancing our students’ education experience with some of the great programs that ECISD has to offer. It will take many months to negotiate and gain approval for this potential partnership which must be approved by (the) Texas Education Agency (TEA), the ECISD Board and the University of Texas System Board of Regents,” the letter said.

ECISD Superintendent Scott Muri said this is an exciting opportunity for the district to explore.

“We see this as a chance to partner not only with the STEM Academy but also with the University of Texas Permian Basin. While we have work to do before an agreement is reached, the potential exists for an innovative partnership between us all,” Muri said in an email.

Operations will be normal for UTPB STEM Academy for the 2021-22 school year with no changes, the letter said.

Although they won’t know the complete details until the negotiations and approvals are complete, the goals of UTPB and ECISD are:

  • Retain the STEM curriculum and instructional model.
  • Retain the current faculty and staff, including the leadership of the school.
  • Retain all current students without a lottery.
  • Maintain a close association between ECISD and UTPB; UTPB could potentially become the operating partner for the school.
  • New facilities for the school to be located on the UTPB campus.
  • Extracurricular student opportunities including sports and fine arts.
  • Additional support and opportunities for students.

Woodley said in an interview Wednesday that the task force has been working for two years to find options for STEM.  She added that the approximately 20 task force members did a “fabulous job.”

About two and a half months ago, the task force had its final meeting where they presented two options that met all the criteria, Woodley said.

At a virtual town hall in April, STEM Superintendent Shannon Davidson presented another option focusing on blended learning where most things would remain the same. Davidson said they would keep the learning model and all current students would remain STEM students and the school would grow its online population. Davidson added that the employees would stay.

She said in April that there were facility funds available through a Texas Education Agency charter allotment.

Davidson said the end goal is to move out of the portables on campus and into permanent facilities. She proposed the Founders Building.

The town halls were followed by a survey that was sent to all of the stakeholders of STEM. A link was included where you could go back and watch the video if you were unable to be at the town hall, Woodley said.

“After that, I made the decision to pursue partnership with Ector County and so that’s where we are in the process,” Woodley said Wednesday.

Davidson said Wednesday she is excited about the possibilities and the future of STEM.

“I really feel like Dr. Woodley has met all the goals that we set out, especially as a task force that we came to the table with and she has met those goals with this potential partnership. And I think it’s a win-win. I think our students are going to benefit from this, we’re going to be able to give them some new opportunities and experiences that we just haven’t been able to give them here at STEM, but I know that ECISD will be able to offer,” Davidson added.

She said all the goals were met in this partnership and she thinks that is the best part.

“… I think that brings comfort to the STEM community, knowing that their voice was heard and the things that they wanted. And then I think they are seeing the benefits that could come out of a partnership with ECISD,” Davidson said.

The extracurricular activities ECISD can offer are a big benefit, as well, she said.

“… When we’re talking to the parents and the students, that’s the thing that seems to be what they’re most excited about, some of those extracurricular activities and the potential of brand-new facility on our campus. And I think that’s a really important possibility,” Davidson said.

Woodley said ECISD has talked about a new bond issue that they’re working through right now.

“So, our understanding is if the partnership is approved by all parties and we have three boards that will have to approve it, then we will be included in their bond issue for the new facilities,” Woodley said.

If a bond doesn’t pass, she said ECISD would be responsible for facilities for STEM.

Woodley said there are lots of spots STEM could go on the UTPB campus. As part of its master plan, the university is evaluating all its land for future uses. Over the next year, she said, they will identify the best place for the STEM Academy to go.

“… There are several places. It may stay right where it is. It just depends on the review through the facility’s master plan,” Woodley said.

Davidson noted that STEM does not have room to grow right now.

“Not that we want to grow too big, because that’s one of the things that people love about STEM, but there is room for growth if we had different facilities, but our facilities have prevented us from doing that,” Davidson said.