The Daily Pulse:

STEM Cell at the L&N?

So the big ballyhooed news conference this morning that brought both our mayors (Bill and Tim) and School Supe Dr. Jim McIntyre out to the L&N building on Henley Street this morning is this: a proposed Knox County magnet high school, housed at the L&N, focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM, in current educational jargon). The school board and City Council are both due to consider the initial proposal next week, with the ambitious goal of actually getting the thing up and running by next fall.

"We love the idea of a STEM school being right in the heart of downtown," city Mayor Bill Haslam says, and the city would be putting its money where his mouth is. The financing is a tad complicated, but basically the city would pledge about $200,000 a year that it gets from loan repayments on the building to the operation of the school. The school system would kick in the rest, an estimated $225,000, which would come from the normal per-student funding that would accompany whichever kids signed up. Enrollment would be open to students across the county, and McIntyre says if there were more applications than available slots, some kind of lottery system would be devised. There is also $3 million available for a STEM school through the federal Race to the Top funds that Tennessee was awarded this year. McIntyre says that money should largely cover the capital expense of retrofitting the 106-year-old building, which was extensively renovated for the 1982 World's Fair. 

The first real public discussion of the proposal will likely come at the school board's workshop session at 5 p.m. Monday on the first floor of the Andrew Johnson Building.

The full press release:
Knox County Schools, County, City partner for STEM high school

The Knox County Schools, in partnership with the City of Knoxville, is pleased to announce a proposed location for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) magnet high school at the historic L&N Station in downtown Knoxville.

The high school is one of two STEM schools identified in Tennessee's Race to the Top proposal and scope of work.  Although the school is identified in the state proposal and would receive significant startup funding from the State of Tennessee, it would be a Knox County high school and part of the Knox County Schools.  Over time, it would expand to serve a regional student population. 

"STEM disciplines are tightly aligned with essential '21st Century skills' such as critical thinking, innovation, and problem solving that will continue to be in high demand in the classroom and workplace of the future," said Dr. Jim McIntyre, Superintendent of the Knox County Schools.  "Focusing on STEM will give students important foundational knowledge and access to incredibly rich future opportunities.

"The proposal for a STEM high school in Knox County has its origins in our strategic plan, Excellence for All Children, as well as in Tennessee's successful reform application in the federal Race to the Top competition," said McIntyre.  "In fact, Tennessee's Race to the Top plan allocates $3 million for the startup of a STEM high school in Knoxville.  With a confluence of interest, support, and momentum around this concept, the Knox County Schools has the chance to be a strong leader in STEM education, not only here in the Innovation Valley and East Tennessee, but across the state."  

The proposal is for the Knox County Schools to engage in a 20-year lease agreement with the owners of the L&N property, Alex Harkness and Station 82 Partners.  The City of Knoxville would grant the school system approximately $200,000 per year to help offset costs, meaning the net yearly facility cost for the STEM school would be about $225,000 a year for the school system.  At the end of the 20-year period, ownership of the property would be transferred to the Knox County Schools.  The title would revert back to the City of Knoxville if the property is no longer used for an active school.

"We are excited to assist in locating a STEM school in a historic building in the heart of the city," said Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.  "This rigorous and relevant curriculum will enhance opportunities for students, as well as help them compete and excel in post-secondary education and in the workforce."

"I think the STEM school will be a quality educational option for students across Knox County, and we are pleased that it's going to become a reality," Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said. "The fact that we can likely accomplish this without taking money from the school system's capital fund is a real bonus, and that means great service for our students and savings for our taxpayers."

Prior to finalizing the terms of the lease agreement, several actions must be approved by governmental bodies:

The Knox County Board of Education must approve the creation of a STEM high school, as well as the location for the school. Knoxville City Council must approve the re-amortization of the lease between Station 82 Partners and the City of Knoxville, as well as the grant to the Knox County Schools.  In addition, City Council will have to approve a change to the city's current C2 downtown commercial zone, which does not currently permit the placement of a school.

The Knox County Commission and Board of Education would have to approve the acceptance of any direct financial support from the City of Knoxville for this initiative.

Plans are to address these items during November Board of Education, City Council, and County Commission meetings.  If the respective governmental entities approve, the school could open as soon as August 2011.

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