With a plan to have a 12-1 student-teacher ratio in their new STEM magnet school for 3-8 grade students, the Stafford Municipal School District says it wants to create something never seen in Fort Bend County.
“We want to create a public school with a private school ambiance,” said
Marva Rasberry,(cq) the Chief Operations Innovation Officer for the district heading up the magnet team.
The team met with the Star to explain their unfolding vision that culminates with an innovative 2021 program.
“We want to expose our students to travel, domestic and international travel. Exploring the global economy and looking at STEM from a different lens with team-building opportunities for students where they participate in grade-level camps and provide some cutting edge rigorous programming,” said Rasberry.
They know what they want, but they are still in the early stages of planning and laying out all the details.
“Superintendent Robert Bostic felt this was a way to revolutionize opportunity for our students. We will be providing some cutting edge and rigorous programming. So when they enter post-secondary, they stand out because of what they have experienced with our curriculum and extracurricular activities,” said Rasberry.
As the district builds its new $33 million middle school on the SMSD campus, which is expected to open August 2020, plans are also underway to repurpose the old middle school to create Fort Bend’s first science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) magnet school for grades 3-8.
Eventually, the magnet school will be open to grades 3-12.
The magnet school is part of the $62 million bond voters approved in 2017.
The bond will cover the costs of building the city’s new middle school and creating the only STEM magnet of its kind in Fort Bend County as well as an Early Childhood Center serving three-year-olds and a Stafford Community Center for all residents.
The $62 million bond is the largest bond approved in the city’s history. Authorities said they do not have breakout numbers on the total costs of the magnet school.
But before the bond was approved, the district said:
$41.5 million would be used for construction projects of the new middle school building and administration building;
$11.4 million would be used for renovation projects which included the STEM Magnet school, a community center, and an early childhood center; and
$9.1 million would be used for other projects including technology, security, transportations, land purchase, contingency, roof repair, and landscaping.
Organizers recently unveiled their dream in a community meeting that attracted more than 200 parents who learned about plans for robotics, coding, and biomedical opportunities. They plan another community meeting in September to ensure parental buy-in. It’s yet another way, school leaders say, that the program is different.
“We’re also letting the community design the vision,” said Ginny Gayle current Stafford Middle School principal and member of the magnet team.
“I know my vision is to have bigger classrooms with labs and technology,” said Gayle. “But the true design will come over the next few months. We will offer biomedical programming, we’re looking at current trends and designs and even looking at furniture design and seeing how that impacts school design. We’ll have major spaces for welding, soldering, and robotics,” Gayle said.
The district plans to initially accept only 300 students who will go through an application process that includes testing and interviews with the students and parents. They expect even more interest at the next September meeting but have not determined a date for that session.
Students accepted into the program will participate in what Rasberry called “annual capstone projects” that will provide the students the opportunity to develop leadership skills while enhancing their knowledge in the area of STEM.
“We don’t just want a program to get them college-ready, but we want them to be critical thinkers, productive citizens. And the feedback I got from the parents is that they want to make sure it touches everything about the child. They want a program that has critical thinking but also helps with social skills, community services, teaching them to be team players in culturally diverse environments,” said LaKenya Perry-Allen the magnet team member who will be in charge of marketing and curriculum development.
“My role is curriculum and the over-arching big concepts and working with the principal, the chief innovation officer, and the community,” said Perry-Allen whose title is Innovation STEM Magnet and Student Support Officer.
The goal is to get back students living in Stafford they have lost to private, charter, and other school districts. Rasberry said she did not know the exact number of students who have left Stafford. They also want to excite those students who have an interest in STEM, she said.
The program will be open to all of Fort Bend County.
“This gives us an opportunity to really change the way people think about the Stafford Community School District,” said magnet team member and School Board trustee Ashish Hamirani(cq).
“We want to ensure we are preparing our students for how jobs will look in the future. We want to make sure students are defining those jobs in 2030, and we want to equip them with the skills and knowledge that most students or people won’t have till they have higher education,” said Hamirani.
“I am a data scientist by education, and I am excited by this,” said the district’s youngest trustee. He said he graduated from a magnet program at Hightower High School in Fort Bend County, but it was only for high school students. “It was remarkable in that it shaped who I am and those skills I still use today. One piece of that Hightower program is that students had the opportunity to intern with Texas Instruments, said Hamirani.
Rasberry said she envisions attracting Stafford alumni now working in the STEM fields to return to volunteer or consult. They already have certified robotics teachers and a strong relationship with Apple, said Gayle.
In addition to having capstone projects where each student will be able to apply their knowledge and create portfolios of their work, Rasberry said she and Bostic discussed even creating a “shark tank” type experience to accompany those capstone projects so students can present their ideas and designs to those experts in the STEM fields. She described it as “something where we involve business partners who may want to take it and embrace it. It’s just another something that will set us apart and above the norm,” said Rasberry.
The team has big dreams. They also talked about potential obstacles.
“Anytime you put your foot into something that has never been done, before, you run into walls. Big is getting that community vision, having the staff qualified to teach this rigor, making sure we have capacity, and finding someone to teach coding. They’re currently coding for Apple or Microsoft, and we want to attract them here,” said Gayle.
Since there are only 300 seats, they expect competition to be stiff.
“When launching a premier program, you have to make sure you have the stakeholders on board, you have the infrastructure, and everything is aligned with the goals, mission, and vision. Yes, there will be challenges. But anything that is grand, the work to get there is grand and will require a lot of diligence,” said Rasberry.
Added Hamirani. “We are in unchartered territory and we have a lot of stakeholders, What worries me is the unknown and it’s unknown because no one has done this in the public sector, not for 3-8 grades,” said the trustee
He said they would talk with those who have mastery in computer science and medicine to be a part of the program as a volunteer or speaker. “So parents can see this is what the outcome could look like, be it an engineer or doctor, how can I get my student to this end goal. It’s fun and exciting and has a set of challenges,” said Hamirani.
Over the next few months, Rasberry said the team will solidify the timeline that includes the details of the application process and the curriculum. They will have a STEM website and will create a STEM profile, “showing what we are looking for in teachers, staff, and students,” said Rasberry.
The competitive application process will be, ” a mix of a college admission and a highly prestigious private school with priority or weight given to Stafford students,” said Hamirani.
“So I tell people if you don’t live here,” said Hamirani, “start looking for your house now.”