By Dr. Richard Canfield, Superintendent of Schools
In the midst of celebrating the town’s 375 years, 2014 also heralded the opening of the Sandwich STEM Academy. I felt it was appropriate to document the story of The STEM Academy, as it becomes part of a proud tradition of excellent schooling in Sandwich.
Part One: How the idea for a Middle School/STEM Academy came to be….
Historically, the story began in 2010 when a joint school and town committee met with an education consultant from the architectural engineering firm of Symmes, Maini, and McKee Associates (SMMA) from Cambridge, Massachusetts. I began my tenure as Superintendent of Schools in July 2011, and began to participate in meetings that were held at the Wing building. It quickly became apparent that renovation or replacement costs for the Henry T. Wing School could not be justified with the declining enrollment that was occurring, and continues to occur, all across Cape Cod.
As Sandwich’s new superintendent, I came from a Connecticut community that had gone through the heartache of closing a school building where many heartstrings were attached. Similar to the Wing, many parents had attended that school, and now their own children were in attendance. I learned that high quality education is not about the brick and mortar, but about the magic of learning that skilled educators can create for children on a daily basis. I listened intently as the consultant shared recommendations, and recall his pointing out that enrollment decline would impact every building. He also mentioned that students would eventually be rattling around in the large high school building, and in fact, the enrollment numbers showed that it could accommodate the grade 7 and 8 population, just as it had in prior years.
One of the takeaways from my prior experience in moving grade 7 and 8 students into a high school setting was that parents would need assurance that the building could be organized as a separate school-within-a-school. I made the case that we should not just warehouse students by fitting them into the building. Drawing upon prior experience, especially my district-wide responsibility for curriculum, I suggested the creation of a special school that would reflect the best of research on 21st Century teaching and learning. I proposed the establishment of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Academy to be housed in the A-Wing under the roof of the Sandwich High School. I recall the very favorable reaction of the committee as they noted that the plan would begin the process of moving ahead with the closing of the Wing, and yet everyone, especially the children, would gain from this change. One member with a strong engineering background leaned toward me and said, “I really like the idea, but be sure you get one-to-one technology for the students.”