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Oswego School District Nixes STEM School Partnership

Board members voted 6-0 against partnering with three other districts on the program.

Construction continues on the John C. Dunham STEM School at Aurora University. Credit: Aurora University
Construction continues on the John C. Dunham STEM School at Aurora University. Credit: Aurora University
With one board member abstaining, the Oswego District 308 school board on Monday voted 6-o against forming a partnership with area schools to send local students to a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program at Aurora University.

Board Vice President Alison Swanson abstained from the vote.

Board members voiced concerns over the cost of the STEM school, plus the fact that a relatively small number of students — 50 from each district — would be able to attend. Officials even suggested the possibility that District 308 could one day create its own STEM program that would be open to more Oswego students.

Board president Bill Walsh said he feels the existing staff and curriculum in District 308 are already preparing students to excel in science, technology and math.

"I understand what it takes to compete ... in a global environment that we're in," Walsh said. "I know that the system here is preparing our students to compete both locally and internationally. 

"I feel that we're doing a very good job," Walsh said, adding, "I feel that our resources should be continually focused here in our environment."

Board member Brent Lightfoot was critical of the small number of District 308 students that would be admitted to the STEM school.

"At the elementary level, that means less than one student in each of the elementary school buildings. That's a pretty small number," Lightfoot said. "It's infinitesimal." 

The John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School, estimated to cost $12 million, is being constructed on the Aurora University campus and was originally envisioned as a partnership that would serve third- through eighth-grade students from Oswego District 308, West Aurora, East Aurora and Indian Prairie school districts.

Students would be chosen by their home school district, and would return to the district upon "graduating" from the STEM program. 

Construction on the school began last fall, and the program is slated to open in August.

Aurora University spokesman Steven McFarland said despite the lack of participation from Oswego, the school is still on track to open on schedule. Plans call for the STEM school to be funded by Aurora University and the participating school districts.

On Tuesday, McFarland issued a joint statement from the university and the three remaining school districts involved in the STEM school.

"We have enjoyed the opportunity to work with many dedicated teachers and administrators in School District 308 over the past four years on this project," the statement said. "As we enter this final phase of preparation for the school to open, we are disappointed to learn of this development."

The statement goes on, "Like our elected officials and many community and corporate partners, we remain committed to this first-in-the-nation concept and its potential to advance learning, teaching and the economic vitality of the Fox Valley Region. ... We look forward to opening the school in August."

Last month during a STEM school presentation by Aurora University Executive Director of the Institute for Collaboration Sherry Eagle, board members seemed hesitant to commit to the STEM school.

“Ninety-nine percent of what you’re proposing is wonderful,” said board member Greg O’Neil. “But we have over 17,000 kids who need those opportunities. We’re talking about 50.”

Eagle said the program in “one fell swoop” won’t address the needs of more than 17,000 students, but “you have to start somewhere.”

O'Neil commented that the school sounded similar to a charter school, which the board had denied last year.

Kelly February 14, 2014 at 05:30 PM
I took my kids out of this public school system. Thank goodness I did that. I don't get it. Aren't the other schools also only getting 50 kids in next year? Move to one of their districts if you want a school board with forward thinking. My daughter was a straight A student who couldn't actually do the math - enough for me. So much for a program they claim is equal in educating as the STEM program promises. Glad I'm gone. You need to boot that board - each one. One other thing, you only want the top kids, if they all went it would end up the same program. Not everyone is capable. Be realistic.
Oswego Mom February 14, 2014 at 05:37 PM
Tell me again, how many of you showed up at the meeting and spoke up? Right. So take your wagging fingers and point them at yourselves for not taking the time and being present if something is important to you. ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL. If something is relevant enough for you to post somewhat anonymously on a message board - pro or con - show up. There are village meetings and D308 meetings regularly. If you have an opinion, take your 5 minutes and use them. But don't come here and try to shame administration after the fact - if you didn't SHOW UP!
Kelly February 14, 2014 at 06:03 PM
Oswego mom, you are correct but they were voted in to make good decisions on our behalf. For this, they did not.
1toomanytickets February 14, 2014 at 06:23 PM
Don't know much about the STEM program in question, but to me it seems like the board saved the administrators a huge headache. Parents complain when their children don't make a sports team; don't get the part in the play; don't get the grade that the parents think they deserve; etc. I can't even imagine the crapstorm that would have taken place if their kid didn't get chosen to be in this program. There are many opportunities where parents can introduce their kids to these disciplines at home if they don't feel they are getting it at school and the kids will be better off.
JimmyJ February 14, 2014 at 08:54 PM
Like Kelly I took the last of my kids out of this sorry excuse for a district so I don't have a dog in the fight other than paying taxes into the system. The statement made by the BOE president that the district already does a good job in STEM clearly shows that they continue to live in fantasy land. I agree that 50 students for the money put in is hard to swallow but the argument that it's not fair because we have 17,000 in the district is a joke. if that's the idea then open up the AP classes to everyone...oh yeah...they wouldn't be AP then, and why are they AP and only a few can take those classes? Oh yeah...some kids are better at things like Calculus than others, some are better at Chemistry than others....so in this case there may be 50 students who are better at the things entrance would require so lets keep them chained to good ol' D308.
David Johnson February 14, 2014 at 10:15 PM
Amazing opportunity lost! This could have also been a blessing to those families who do not have the means for their exceptional children to partake in. A chance for the district to 'reward' those who flourish while learning & beyond their years educationally. Don't let these children left behind! A great College offering a great program......so sad selfish reasoning has left so many disappointed.
Jane Enviere February 14, 2014 at 11:17 PM
Oswego Mom -- many people opt to express their views to elected officials via email, phone calls, etc. I wouldn't assume the people don't express their opinions to their elected representatives just because they didn't speak at a public meeting. Many of us have multiple children, jobs (you know, to pay those property taxes the schools rely upon), volunteer responsibilities, elderly family members to care for, etc., attending meetings might not work into your routine with ease. That said, even if none of that applies to people commenting, they are still welcome to state their opinions, no matter how they feel about the outcome. By the way, since you must attend meetings frequently, I would think that you would be able to distinguish between the "administration" and the board with ease. Not sure how anyone is shaming the administration when it is the board that made the call.
Mike Francis February 15, 2014 at 01:54 PM
I can't find a current financial report, but the 2011 report for 308 showed liabilities of over $800,000,000. How many more millions of dollars does everyone want to dump into this District to pay for more programs like this STEM one while still not holding the teachers and students accountable? Stop by either high school once school gets out and see how many students have actually stayed after school to study and use the resources that we've already paid for. Good luck finding more than a handful of students other than those in sports. And you'll find thousands of computer terminals just sitting there with no one using them. The lack of achievement has nothing to do with a lack of spending. In fact, all you have to do is research the spending and achievement history of this district to see that there is no correlation.
ayar February 15, 2014 at 03:05 PM
hey, truth detector http://neatoday.org/2013/06/03/survey-u-s-students-better-at-science-than-public-realizes/ oh, and Oswego Mom, yes I was there. No, there isn't much we can do about it even though we sat there. Are you going to run against one of those people is the question. The PROBLEM is this "test test test who needs to learn" mentality that is prevalent.
ayar February 15, 2014 at 03:08 PM
The other problem is this lack of involving enough actual teachers in the examination and setup of our programs. This "I'm a businessman vote for me and I will fix it all" doesn't always work.
Oswego Mom February 16, 2014 at 09:55 AM
Jane Enviere - fair enough. And Dr. Wendt did acknowledge the stack of letters he had in front of him from PACE. I guess my frustration stems from watching the Monday morning quarterbacks - complaining - instead of campaigning for what they claim to endorse. We're all in this together.
Brett February 17, 2014 at 12:57 PM
"I feel that we're doing a very good job," Walsh said... Well, I'm glad you "feel" it... those are good metrics :P I'm also sorely disappointed in this lost opportunity. I have my kids in private school currently, but continue to pay these outrageous taxes on top of it. I'm easily already paying for one of those 50 kids to attend a STEM school. So now my thousands get divided up among the 17,000 students... likely paying for something like a slightly less processed chicken nugget for lunch. I will continue to keep my kids in private school, and teach them a love for Math, Science and Technology at home. Don't sit around and let some Board of Nothing decide your children's future because they "feel" like it.
Mike Francis February 17, 2014 at 03:47 PM
What resources are missing from the district that a STEM program can only provide? I'd say very little unless the teachers are unqualified. There are hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets that are already underutilized. Parents need to get more involved in their children's education rather than simply sending them off to public school and expecting others to be 100% responsible for their education.
JimmyJ February 17, 2014 at 04:05 PM
Mike...there are underutilized assets...that's without question. Whether all of the teachers are qualified is another question. Like one of the other parents who commented earlier, I too have our last child in private high school. His siblings went to OHS and the measure between them is incredible, even his older sisters see the difference. That difference is the curriculum and how it is implemented. The school my son attends requires 28 credit hours for graduation. They are on a pure 4 block ( not the 4 A/B block OHS used and failed at) and if you complete 28 hours before your senior year is done, you stay, there is no early graduation, there are juniors there with 32 hours. I suspect that a STEM Academy will have a curriculum different from a standard HS. Implementation, and teaching so the student actually LEARNS the material for life and not until the standardized test comes along is the key to a successful school system.
JimmyJ February 17, 2014 at 04:07 PM
Don't forget that D308 High Schools are LOWERING the number of credits required for graduation. It used to be 25 and I believe it will be 22 in the next year or two. It's in the student handbook or the curriculum publication available on line. REDUCING credit hours required while other schools INCREASE is NOT the way to go.
Mike Francis February 17, 2014 at 05:34 PM
JimmyJ-- I'm not as familiar with the overall qualifications of the teachers. But if it's like you indiciated then the place to start is by hiring teachers with better qualifications that would be similar to the teachers who would apparently be teaching the STEM type of education. Insofar as graduating credits. that's also something that parents are in charge of. If the standards are too low, then their kids can choose to take more than the required number of credit hours.
JimmyJ February 17, 2014 at 05:49 PM
Mike...so the school administration/board LOWERING the minimum graduation standard is not a cause for concern. By your measure they could set the minimum at 5 hours and it's up to the parents to push their kids into learning more. Under your concept why the hell would anyone send their kid to public school? why do we even pay for a system that does nothing consistently but lower the bar? if i'm going to push the school and the student then I may as well home school. Thank God there are private schools. Now if we could get a voucher system...
JimmyJ February 17, 2014 at 05:56 PM
The other thing you guys need to understand about the board meetings, and I tell you this from experience, is that they are public meetings in name only. Read the agenda once and then watch the meeting, they blow through approval/disapproval in minutes with little discussion. Why? because the BOE receives a "board packet" of all the information the week prior so its all cut and dried by the time the public meting is held. One or two or 10 people coming to the mic has never influenced the outcome. The only time the public influences and outcome, and typically it only causes a short delay in the inevitable is when they hold a large meeting and a hundred or more people speak out. Those are far and few between. I have always said if you could muster 50, 75, 100 or more to pack a regular board meeting, you would get something done. otherwise it;s window dressing to appease the "concerned citizen"
Mike Francis February 17, 2014 at 07:03 PM
"By your measure they could set the minimum at 5 hours" NO, I did not say that. I was commenting on the fact that you supplied that said they were reducing the hours by only 3 hours. Kids and their parents already make the decision on how much, if any, other classes beyond the minimum they want to take. If you rely upon the public school system for making those sorts of decisions for you then you are already lost. It would be different if they were putting a cap on the number of hours a student could choose, but they are choosing a minimum.
JimmyJ February 17, 2014 at 08:17 PM
Mike...Yes...the difference from 2014 to 2015 in terms of hours needed for graduation is "only" 3. The difference from when my oldest went to 2015 is 8. That should be a concern. Did they reduce the hours required for science or math? No, in fact they remained the same. If D308 was truly as world class as they want everyone to believe and was doing the absolute best as the BOE president thinks they are wouldn't it have been better to maintain the higher number of hours needed and redistributed them into more hours of math and science? Isn't it up to the school to set the highest standard possible? Parents do have the responsibility to do more then take little johnny to the bus stop and pick him back up again assuming the schools are doing their job. That was what I used to do until I got involved years ago. That involvement led me to believe that I could not afford another student of mine to waste their time in D308.
Walt Hines February 17, 2014 at 09:34 PM
Jimmy, the state has set requirements for the amounts of credits a student must take with regards to the basics. Anything past that is electives of the students choice. There are many classes at the H.S. level that are very hard to get into as there's only so much time and class offered. My daughter graduated early last year and then attended W.C.C. She was in honors and A.P. her entire school life but needed a jump start for U.of I. There were many classes that other districts had that we don't and it was to their advantage for a school like that. She had run her course at O.H.S. and there was nothing more she could take. I'm proud to say she's an A student once again. Mike that was some nice research you did with the liabilities. $800,000,000.00 in the hole!!! Notice how that was just passed by. We can't afford a damn thing! While the program sounds interesting, what's the true cost? Maybe if parents were willing to pay for the program it would be doable. We need to ask ourselves why we weren't included in the first place. Maybe the $800,000,000.00 had something to do with it? Taxes will continue to rise until we have driven most of the residents out of here. Think it's bad now, wait until 2016. There's many smart folks on here, you'll be able to find out what this is.
Mike Francis February 17, 2014 at 11:28 PM
Walt-- thank you for noticing. That's why I always question those who say that we haven't given enough money to this district. My gosh, we'll be pushing a BILLION dollars pretty soon and there are still ignorant people who say that the taxpayers aren't supporting the district. It's how the money has been wasted that's the true travesty here.
JimmyJ February 18, 2014 at 08:07 AM
Walt I understand the state sets a minimum. The district certainly can deviate above that and set their own requirements. If that were not so then every district in the state would require the same number of credits. The requirement in D308 has steadily been lowered and I'm not sure people understand that. I did finally and I shopped around. If I have to pay I want the best my money can buy. So now I pay double. Maybe lowering the requirements, and make no mistake there and plenty if students to do the minimum and not much more, which increases the graduation rate and makes the school look better on paper, what do we have?
Brett February 18, 2014 at 12:07 PM
In regards to credit hours, I have a little anecdotal story based on my personal experience. While in college studying for a BSEE degree, I took a class on computer architecture and micro-controllers. It happened to be a two part course where the first part we learned all about how computers worked, and the second part was going to be more hands-on lab work building our own micro-controller based computer. Someone planned the curriculum poorly and spaced those two classes one semester apart (15 weeks). That's a long time to try and retain the information learned from the first part of the course. So I decided to needed to add this second part to my schedule, which resulted in an "overloaded" schedule. I could not simply swap with one of the other courses... it was set in stone. I was fortunate to have won a scholarship by competing in state wide competition for Skills USA, taking first place out of 3500 students. However, because of this technicality of having an "overloaded" schedule, they were forced to take my scholarship funding away for that semester. The reason was because they didn't believe they should pay for someone that would likely fail to make grades because of the overload. I had no idea they had this kind of power AFTER I had worked so hard to win that scholarship. I had to bear the burden of all of the classes myself if I wanted to put my future in my own hands. It was important to me, so I did it. After the semester was over, I marched right back into the Financial Aid dept. and shoved my overloaded semester grades in their face... strait A's. You think they cared? Maybe escalate my case to someone that makes the rules perhaps to show them their thinking pretty far from reality? Maybe credit me back a semester of tuition since I not only made strait A's, but took that micro-controller project and blew it out of the water with a completely custom wooden briefcase on top of it all? Nope. What a shame. That said, we all have the power to shape our own futures... don't let the "rules" get in your way ;-)
KylefromOswego February 21, 2014 at 12:06 PM
I heard there was way more to this story than was shared with the public. I heard the board's hands were tied on this because the plan wasn't complete! I heard the details had not been hashed out, nor agreed upon and that once the board voted to the agreement, they had no jurisdiction over the program or our own kids that participated. I heard it was just rushed and it put our board in a very unfair and awkward position. Now that I know what I heard, I realize the board actually decided to take it on the chin for the greater good of the district. Thank you board members!
Oswego Mom February 21, 2014 at 12:09 PM
I heard the same, Kyle. It makes me sad that they were put in such a crummy position, and makes me angry at the people who tried to hush and rush the whole thing. Thank you board members for falling on the sword for this.
Brett February 21, 2014 at 01:51 PM
That doesn't make much sense to me... so you applaud the board for not telling the truth about the details so that they could keep the public image of the other districts/program creators in tact, while tarnishing their own? I would rather be told the truth. How are we supposed to intelligently be active in the community if we have rely upon rumors or hearsay to understand what's really going on?
JimmyJ February 21, 2014 at 04:54 PM
Wow...keep on accepting the mediocrity handed out to you known as D308 and deluding yourselves that this is some great school district.
OHS Alum February 27, 2014 at 02:16 AM
So I will say this. D308 has many great students and great teachers. Some of the greats I will mention are Mr. Greg pelzer, Mr. Denny Barfuss, and Mrs. Mcarthy, among others. I will also say that D308 has various sources of blame, and I wouldn't be too quick to pin it on board members, administrators, or mediocre teachers and programs. Many students, as we all know, adopt an I don't care attitude. Teachers then struggle to install an interest in the students to learn. Speaking from my own experience, I watched many of my peers either one fail in high school, two graduate go to Waubonsee and attempt to discover their path in life only to end up lost, or three achieve greatness. What were the differences between these students? A want to learn. Where does that seemingly invisible driving force stem from? Parents or the students environment. Which I would say is mostly independent of D308. Any student can succeed, whether they are at D308 or a Naperville school its a matter of whether they want to learn. D308 has all the tools already, as long as they do not phase out the tech electives. The reason I hesitated earlier to say that a student's want to learn is mostly independent of D308 is because it also matters if the student has discovered their interest. We all know setting goals are a great tool to motivate accomplishments. Thus, when a student finds an interest, their goal/dream/hobby, their desire to learn is ignited. A little background on me, I am an OHS alum, graduated a few years ago, and am currently pursuing an engineering degree at a top rated university. What kind of student was I in high school? Not the best but not the worst. What kind of student was I when I found my interest? Straight A. Through one of the tech electives I discovered my passion and chose to pursue it as my career. So what does this say? Well my parents cared. As a result, I had a little bit of a want to learn. Found my interest because of the various courses D308 offered and I now have internships lined up and I am on my way to success. Without the teachers at D308, such as Denny Barfuss and Greg Pelzer, my parents, and the course offerings of D308 I would not be where I am today. D308 really set me up for college as I was way ahead of my current peers. I developed many skills in high school that most of my peers hadn't even known about until their junior year of college and all thanks to D308's programs and teachers, not to mention the SkillsUSA competition that really pushed me to learn a lot of great skills and meet people from all over the country as I made it to the national competition. The skills competition would not be an option if it wasn't for teachers like Denny Barfuss being the coordinator year after year and Tom Dwyer encouraging many students to compete. So before everything is blamed on D308, parents I would ask yourselves to evaluate where your child is at. D308 has all the tools, AP classes, tech electives, Honors courses (which are being phased out), general college preparatory courses, and tutoring services to assist your child. It's whether your child chooses to utilize these resources and how well parents recognize that fostering a passion for learning must be paramount when raising their child. As for my opinion of the STEM situation: STEM > PLTW.
tracycollander March 01, 2014 at 12:56 PM
After a presentation that indicated at the recent board meeting that our district is failing in terms of appropriate curricular for our children, it is unfortunate that the STEM program was not approved for the 50 kids who most need the challenge. As Sherry Eagle pointed out, it is a start. Further, participation in the STEM program could provide a model for District 308 that could be replicated in order to offer our students the best in math and science. I agree with the Mom who stated that we need to show up at the 308 meetings and be heard if we want to see change and I seriously question the current board's capability to make decisions and take appropriate ACTION to provide our students with the most effective and efficient structure for academic achievement. There are many high performing schools and programs available as models, including the STEM program.

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