Negotiations are underway between the University of Kentucky and Fayette County Public Schools to move the STEAM Academy program to the UK campus near the College of Education, officials said Friday. STEAM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, is a partnership between UK and Fayette County Public Schools.
The program, opened in fall 2013, is housed temporarily in the former Johnson Elementary School on East Sixth Street, but officials said the long-term goal has been to have a facility close to or on the UK campus.
At STEAM, students take high school classes while also earning college credits in courses taught by UK faculty as well as undergraduate and graduate students.
"The eyes of the nation are on us as we show how a public school working with a university can rethink education," Mary John O'Hair, dean of the College of Education said in a news release. "Locating the STEAM Academy on the UK campus is ideal for both the university and FCPS."
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UK Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Eric N. Monday told district officials in December that the university would provide a site on campus for STEAM. The school district will construct the academy. The most likely site for construction is behind the Taylor Education Building, officials said.
There is not a specific timetable set for selecting a site or beginning construction, but officials from both the district and UK said they want to move as quickly as possible, given the benefits of having STEAM on the UK campus.
Mary Wright, chief operating officer for the school district, said the district has an ambitious goal of being in the new building by January 2017.
That building would likely serve 600 students in grades 9-12. The program now has about 300 students.
Wright said that the District Facilities Plan suggests that a new 600-student high school could cost somewhere in the range of $22 million. But that estimate is now three years old and does not take into account that the school could have a non-traditional design.
The school district currently provides money for the school and UK provides some staff.
Sharon Mofield-Boswell, the PTSA president at STEAM, said in an email that she was excited that the district and UK are working together in the effort to relocate STEAM to UK.
The STEAM Academy was the first public high school program in the nation to receive start-up funds from Next Generation Learning Challenges, which is supported by foundations including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Finding a permanent home for STEAM has been controversial.
The Fayette County Board of Education had filed a lawsuit in Fayette Circuit Court, seeking a declaratory judgment favoring the school system's plan to buy a former Winn-Dixie supermarket in the shopping plaza at South Broadway and Virginia Avenue.
The school board voted in 2013 to buy the old Winn-Dixie building, but the purchase was not completed.
The school board sued several individuals and companies that own nearby property, seeking clarification of deed restrictions.
An attorney representing some of the nearby property owners previously told the Herald-Leader his clients contended that deed restrictions preclude a school from operating in the former Winn-Dixie building.
Wright said Friday the lawsuit would likely be withdrawn given the decision with the UK location.
With the UK partnership, College of Education students would be involved in STEAM classrooms helping the college establish a "blue ribbon model" for teacher preparation programs.
"Being on campus will solidify one of the pillars of STEAM, to ensure our students are college and career experienced before they graduate," said Tina Stevenson, director of the STEAM Academy since it opened in 2013.
Justin Bathon, UK College of Education associate professor and director of innovative school models, is providing leadership to the STEAM Academy, along with Stevenson.
The core difference between STEAM and one of the traditional high schools in Lexington, Bathon said, "is that we are willing to change the model of high school to offer different opportunities for kids."
At STEAM, students are involved in internships earlier than students in a traditional program and have many opportunities throughout the year to show that they have mastered a subject, he said.
"Just being near the campus will create a buzz," said Margo Lawson, a freshman at the STEAM Academy. "Not only will teachers be able to partner with UK for materials and curriculum, but students will get the complete college experience with new technology, a new learning environment and some of the privileges being a college student affords."