A STEM school might be a in Sampson County’s future.
The Sampson County Board of Education received an update during Tuesday afternoon’s work session from Tommy Macon, assistant superintendent of Academics and Student Services, concerning the progress being made to implement a STEM Academy/Career Academies in the county school system.
After considering four different implementation options over the summer, Macon shared with school board members that central office staff are pursuing the “stand alone” option, describing it as the one that seems “most doable.”
With this option, there will be a Career Academy at each of the four county high schools plus one at Sampson Community College, each offering a Career Technical Education (CTE) program. There will also be a STEM Academy centrally located at the community college.
Currently, CTE courses are in place at each of the system’s four high schools that can be turned into career academies, shared Macon. At Hobbton High, there is a robotics class and a health sciences class; at Lakewood High, a carpentry class; at Midway High, an automotive class; and at Union High, an AV technology class to which the system is considering adding a 3D design component.
Additionally, Sampson Community College is also offering its own CTE class — a nurse aid class — for high school students.
According to Macon, the three partners involved in making this idea a reality — Sampson County Schools, Clinton City Schools, and Sampson Community College — have already held two meetings. However, he added, county school officials found out last Friday that the city school system has decided to withdraw its participation in the project’s start-up, at least for the time being.
As Sampson County Schools and SCC continue to move forward with the project, they have tentatively discussed calling the new academy, which would be located at the community college, the Sampson STEM Academy.
They are also considering three different curriculum focuses — biotechnology agricultural education, biomedical health science education, or civil engineering and architecture — with the college suggesting offering only one in the beginning.
In addition to Macon, Ginger Stone, director of Career and Technical Education, is also a player in the project and shared with school board members thatthe project’s partners honed in on these three curriculum focuses because the areas have been identified as areas of need locally and in the southeastern region.
Macon added that these three focuses are also thought to be ones that the school system can support and ones for which the community college has appropriate facilities for.
To help determine which focus to offer first, the school system has also sought feedback from its students, surveying sophomores and juniors in an effort to see where their specific interests lie. Sophomores and juniors were selected since they will be juniors and seniors — the new academy’s target population — next school year. One of the reasons, Macon noted, for targeting these upperclassmen is because many of them drive and can transport themselves between their high schools and the community college.
Once the academy is established, Macon shared that the maximum number of students that could enroll would likely be 25 at the start with a minimum of 15; the max could be expanded later. Based on preliminary discussions, these enrolled students would take classes at the new academy three days a week for one or two blocks and then return to their high schools to take traditional classes. On the remaining two days, enrolled students would participate in internships.
Once students complete the semester long courses they would not be able to receive any credentials, only high school class credit. However, Macon noted, the school system is hoping that eventually the community college will offer an option where students can continue to take classes at the college for another year or so post-high school and earn credentials.
As for how project responsibilities will divided among the partners, Macon explained that the community college will provide the facility and look at how much classroom space is available and required for the new academy. Sampson County Schools will be responsible for looking into the costs of instructors and supplies.
School board chairman Telfair Simpson inquired if central office staff had an estimate of how much it might cost to implement the project. Macon responded that funding was still to be determined, but interim superintendent Mike Warren noted that “our main commitment would be personnel.”
Simpson also questioned whether the courses offered through the new academy would be solely for high school students or might the college’s students be allowed to participate. According to Stone, if the courses were designated as public school courses then only high school students could take them. However, if designated as College and Career Promise (CCP) courses, it would be possible for others to be included in the classes.
School board member Sonya Powell shared that she had previously visited a STEM/Career Academy in Iredell County and described the county school system’s proposal as “so different from what they (Iredell County) did,” noting that the academy she visited offered culinary arts, fire training, automotive training, nursing, and more.
Macon acknowledged that those kinds of programs had been discussed but didn’t seem to be ones that could be supported in Sampson County at the present time.
“I think the difference is equipment,” said Warren, pointing out how expensive it would be to create a automotive shop or a kitchen for such instruction.
“We may run into a funding issue but we’ve got to get started somewhere,” he added.
In reminding the school board that it’s “all discussion right now” and “all preliminary,” Macon shared that the community college is very supportive of the project.
“Dr. Hutchins and his staff are on board and want to see it happen. He’s a big supporter,” he said.
“Dr. Hutchins is 110 percent behind this proposal,” added Warren, mentioning, “I’ve been in places where the community college didn’t want the high school folks around but it’s completely different over there (at SCC).”
The project’s partners will meet again on Monday, Nov. 18 at Sampson Community College and Sampson County Schools “will continue the conversation with board’s guidance,” said Macon.
Simpson suggested that the participating partners determine whether the academy’s courses will be high school course or joint CCP course, adding that if the latter, the college might consider assisting with the cost of instructors.
“Thankfully Sampson Community College has provided us with an option to use their facilities and get started,” he said, requesting that Macon express the school board members’ gratitude for that and their to commitment to the project to Hutchins and his staff.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.