Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are the core components of a proposed charter school being developed by the Merced County Education Foundation. By 2018, the school could involve up to 250 students.
The proposal has met with criticism from a number of area school superintendents, concerned that the charter school would draw attendance away from their districts and undermine ongoing efforts to boost science and technology education at local campuses.
The Merced County Board of Education will vote July 28 on the proposed charter high school in Merced that will focus on science education.
RoseMary Parga Duran, superintendent of the Merced City School District, said the proposal from Steve Gomes, county superintendent of schools, would pull average daily attendance funds from existing schools, particularly Merced High School.
“We all do our part to develop STEM,” Duran said. “We should have put effort into improving programs at local high schools before starting a whole different strand. I’m not sure why he’s going this direction.”
Duran said local schools are not at capacity and are experiencing flat or declining enrollment.
Gomes said the Merced Area STEM School will place an emphasis on the core components of STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In development by the Merced County Education Foundation, MASS would be an independent, countywide public benefit high school. Students from anywhere in the Merced area may enroll.
Gomes said quite a few parents are taking their students out of the county to focus on STEM components at other schools. He said surveys show high schools in Merced County are doing little bits of the science-technology curriculum but nothing as specific or inclusive as the MASS plan.
“This is not to take away from what they are doing,” Gomes said. “They all do a great job.”
Scott Scambray, Merced Union High School District superintendent, rang in on the county plans.
“I wish there could have been additional dialogue so we could have worked together,” he said.
Sandy Schiber, Atwater Elementary School District superintendent, said regardless of what MCOE plans and implements, her district will continue its work in preparing all students for high-level math and science.
Schiber said the district is partnering with MCOE to provide a summer school academy that incorporates the arts along with science, technology, engineering and math.
“We will also continue our STEM academies during school holiday breaks to provide learning opportunities during school recesses,” Schiber said. “I was surprised to hear about the MCOE STEM Charter School plan. Districts throughout our community already offer high level STEM learning opportunities along with providing opportunities for workplace learning, leadership, activities, arts, and athletics. The engineering academy at Buhach Colony High School in the Merced Union High School District is a good example.”
Donna Alley, Le Grand Union High School District superintendent, said she was concerned about the loss of student attendance from a new charter school but reserved judgment about the plans.
“I am concerned about the loss of ADA,” Alley said. “At this point, I’m still reading from the charter and getting more information. It’s hard to answer until I’ve read all the information.”
But Gomes said: “MASS could provide students an opportunity to focus on STEM education during their high school years. I think MASS has the potential to be an asset to Merced County’s educational programs and economic development.”
If approved, the school would open for the 2015-16 school year with 100 ninth- and 10th-grade students, adding one grade level each year through 12th grade with a maximum student enrollment of 250 and the first graduating class in 2018.
The charter petition for the school was originally submitted to the Merced County Board of Education at the June 16 meeting, with an anticipated board vote at the July 28 meeting.