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 Two: Starting the process of building a new and different school for Sandwich…
As word spread, I began hearing from many organizations volunteering their help in the design of a special and unique program for our middle school students. I approached the School Committee about the idea of having a Director for the STEM Academy, as opposed to a principal. My experience told me that having two principals under the same roof can result in a lack of clarity in the leadership structure and it was important that SHS Principal Dr. Ellin Booras have responsibility for the entire building. I needed help with all of the offers from organizations willing to support this model, and I needed a person with vision to take on the role of leader of the STEM Academy. We were so fortunate to receive an application from Gil Newton, a long-time teacher-leader from within the district, as he was clearly the ideal educator to lead the program development of the new STEM Academy.
I first met Gil Newton in the summer of 2011. He was in charge of the Advanced Student Leadership Program (ASLP), a Cape Cod Collaborative program, hosted by Massachusetts Maritime Academy. The program is limited to top performing Cape students, but both Gil and I shared a profound belief that an inquiry approach to learning- with hands-on collaborative problem solving activities- is engaging and beneficial for all students, and that all students deserved those opportunities. While the job description for the director was lengthy in detail, I boiled it down to continuous program development, and embedded professional development for all teachers.
Now we needed to consider the facilities-related needs for the STEM Academy. The consultant from SMMA had recommended a $15 million dollar addition to the A-Wing to accommodate the 7th and 9th grade students. An analysis of space in the other schools revealed another option. Moving the central office from the high school to the Oak Ridge School meant that the entire A-Wing could be dedicated to the academy. In consultation with Director of Facilities Alan Hall, we decided to take a second year to plan for modifications to the A-Wing to include two new art rooms, four science rooms, and two engineering and design classrooms. With much of the work done through our own facilities department, the academy was created for far less than $15 million. We spent a total of $300,000, allocated over two years through the capital budget, to make all the necessary renovations for our new School-within-a-School.
Our focus as a district, and the focus of the school committee could be summed up as, “Save on the brick and mortar, just support the program needs and instructional materials for the staff.”