• June 23, 2019

Campus takeover upsets parents - Odessa American: UTPB

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Campus takeover upsets parents

Concerns voiced at STEM Academy news conference

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Posted: Monday, May 20, 2019 6:28 pm

Wearing T-shirts for that day’s field day and STEM Family, parents said they were given short notice of today’s news conference and parent meeting, that teachers were ready to quit, while saying class sizes would be too large and questioning why STEM had to be fixed when it wasn’t broken.

STEM Academy began five years ago on the UTPB campus and is in portable buildings. The school currently reaches 10th grade with a grade a year being added.

The proposal for IDEA Public Schools to take over STEM has to be approved by the UT System Board of Regents and the IDEA board. UTPB President Sandra Woodley said the regents will consider the proposal in August.

Woodley said the transition would be complete in 2021.

Bethany Solis, executive director of the Permian Basin Region, said the IDEA board would take it on in June.

An online petition against the change was posted on Sunday at change.org. The goal was 2,500 and as of late Monday afternoon, 1,511 had signed.

Woodley said the Permian Basin is full of economic opportunity and UTPB is committed to the core mission of the university of helping more people earn undergraduate and graduate degrees, while also focusing on faculty research.

“This is an imperative for the university, but we also know that a strong k-12 education is critically connected to the core mission of the university. We are extremely proud of the work of the STEM Academy over the past five years. There is so much for all of you to be excited about and happy with,” Woodley said. “What university wants to be able to do is not only continue to support strong k-12 education on our campus, but actually to strengthen that.”

 “So there are a couple of things that we have actively been seeking. I’ve been actively as president of this university seeking an option that will allow me to do both things well. I have to be able to move to the university forward and to focus on our core mission and I have to be able to, in my view, find a way to strengthen our commitment at the university to a strong k-12 education. We understand that parents and students are upset about the change and your children’s education is important to you and it’s important to me,” Woodley added.

Woodley said she was trying to find a way to do both, which is the reason she is pursuing a partnership with IDEA Public Schools. She said IDEA is a nationally recognized leader in charter schools with a 20-year track record. It has 79 schools and more than 45,000 students and 85 percent of their charter schools in Texas earn an A or a B score.”

The university doesn’t have the ability to build a kindergarten through 12th grade school on the campus. The Permanent University Fund that come from the UT System and state funding are used for university academic buildings.

The way that most kindergarten through 12th grade schools are built is with bonds, Woodley said, and the university is beyond its debt capacity.

“It was when I came here, so the building that we’ve already done on the cafeterias and the dining halls and the apartments has made it so that the university has no debt capacity to go out ourselves,” Woodley said.

She said the university would continue to work with the STEM family to understand every concern they have.

Solis said IDEA plans to build 14 schools on seven sites in Odessa and Midland during the next six or seven years.

“When Dr. Woodley called and shared the issue that she was facing and asked if we would be open to a partnership to ensure that all current STEM Academy students would have a very high quality, as similar as possible school to attend, we said absolutely; let’s talk. We’re very excited to potentially be a partner to serve the students, not only at STEM Academy, but some additional students hopefully,” Solis said.

She added that IDEA wants to democratize higher education.

“What we have found, and the statistics support this, is that if you grow up in the top quartile income-wise in the United States, you have about an 80 percent chance of going to college and being able to continue that quality of life for your family. But if you grow up in the bottom quartile income, you have just under a 10 percent chance of going to college,” Solis said.

For the past 13 years, she said, 100 percent of IDEA seniors have been accepted to college and 99 percent have matriculated and gone on to enroll in college. Solis said 50 percent have completed college, which is five times the national average for students of their same background.

She said she recognizes how difficult this change can feel and is committed to listening. She plans to meet with parents.

Madison Peck, a 14-year-old eighth-grader at STEM Academy, said she was sad this is happening.

 “I kind of wish STEM would stay the same,” Peck said. 

Parent Jennifer Ramsey said her family has made huge sacrifices so her son could remain part of STEM Academy.

 “We honestly looked at moving to DFW last year and I turned down a job there so that he could stay here in this school. It cost about $24,000 and a lower cost of living in DFW to keep him here for middle school. To find out they just want to dissolve this program is very disheartening. I am not sure that they understand that families build their lives around education for their kids. Many move away from here because they cannot afford private school. I don't understand why the oil companies that are behind the grant that is funding IDEA to come out here are OK with the only existing STEM academy being dissolved in the name of bringing IDEA in when IDEA does not have any kind of STEM program,” Ramsey wrote in an email.

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