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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.

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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