Reader report: 2nd Design Team meeting for K-5 STEM at Boren

The Design Team for the new K-5 STEM at Boren option school opening this fall in West Seattle has now met twice. We covered its first session (here’s that story) but were unable to go to the second one last night; a community member who did, Kathleen Voss, offered today to share her notes, and we took her up on that offer. Here’s her report:

The design team for the new STEM Elementary School at Boren met for the second time on Wednesday at the John Stanford Center in SODO. With the exception of the new incoming principal, Dr. Shannon McKinney, all design team members were present. Also in attendance were eight community observers who represented parents of prospective students, teachers from a local elementary school, as well as some who described themselves only as “interested community members.”

The meeting began fairly shortly after the 6:15 scheduled start time and opened with an opportunity for public testimony. It was stated that in future meetings, the public testimony portion of the meetings will occur at the end, rather than the beginning, of the allotted meeting time. Only one observer stood to offer commentsm which consisted of a reminder to the design team that there are many interested and committed individuals who are eager to assist the design team in whatever way possible. She suggested that a volunteer coordinator might be helpful in connecting skilled volunteers to some of the extraneous tasks that will emerge and lighten the load of the design team members. The team was also reminded of the fully functioning Yahoo group ( that currently boasts more than 70 links to local STEM resources, numerous research articles, as well as an events calendar.

Public comments were followed by a report from assistant superintendent Dr. Cathy Thompson regarding the Steering Committee’s recent walkthrough of the Boren site.

Thompson said all were pleasantly surprised by the current state of the building after years of hearing horror stories regarding its disrepair. As stated in earlier public meetings, all of the flooring will be replaced and walls will be freshly painted. Discussion is ongoing regarding a space that can be utilized for before- and after-school child care. The school will contain two computer labs (with one located in the library) and two science labs (most likely configured for K-2nd and 3-5th grades). The extra space in the administrative office area may lend itself to a family resource center.

The majority of the meeting was spent identifying and discussing the Key Program Features of the school. While the core values and mission statement will wait until Dr. McKinney’s arrival in early April, the design team took on the task of identifying the “Big Ideas” and big tasks to be accomplished before September.

The first priorities for the next two months are hiring faculty and choosing curriculum materials. Materials needed in September will have to be ordered in May. This timeline includes any waivers needed for non-district endorsed materials.

After hearing a multitude of ideas, Aurora Lora, the Executive Director of Schools for West Seattle, was able to identify seven key areas of focus for the team going forward:

Role of technology
Community/family engagement
Diverse learning community
Teaching the whole child
Becoming a leader in STEM education

Other items of discussion:

What is project-based learning? Is is the model we want to use?
Subcommittee needed to focus on grants to assure deadlines do not get forgotten.
List of questions to ask when visiting other STEM schools.

Kathleen says the district promised its notes will be up on its website by the end of the week (sometime tomorrow). She also says the team has added a Saturday meeting, 8:30-noon April 7th, and that several members will tour the state’s only currently operating STEM-focused public elementary school, in Bremerton, on April 27th.

12 Replies to "Reader report: 2nd Design Team meeting for K-5 STEM at Boren "

  • Oliver March 29, 2012 (10:20 pm)

    I thought project based learning was given!

  • wsmama3 March 30, 2012 (7:25 am)

    Oliver – as a member of the design team we’ve gone into this project with the commitment that nothing is on or off the table. It’s all open for conversation. Also- project based learning has a lot of options (a school big problem, looping through the grades, grade specific, child -centered, time specific, art based, etc). From the research I’ve looked at so far a lot of STEM schools use project based learning – but that looks really different at each of the schools.

    Next meeting we are talking about curriculum (April) and it will get flushed out at that meeting what the learning approach will be at our school since we are on a timeline for then deciding what materials need to be ordered.

    I am really happy that the community is so invested – that just keeps reinforcing to me that this is going to be great!

  • parent March 30, 2012 (7:32 am)

    Oliver – my thoughts too! Was this not one of the “selling points” of the school?
    I am all for community involvement but I don’t like about have parents help build the school is this: what happens when those parents move on with their kids? Are we to assume there are other parents with same mind-sets to follow suit?

  • wsmama3 March 30, 2012 (7:56 am)

    Parent – I’ve thought about that too. Using Pathfinder as an example I do think that other parents fill in once the “original” parents move on. Things change, PTA’s set different priorities, building leadership teams change – it’s always a work in motion.

  • Oliver March 30, 2012 (8:45 am)

    wsmama, I hope you take this to heart. Some of your comments on this blog are alienating parents who are just as excited and invested in this school as you are. There is a wealth of expertise and experience in our community that the design team should be thrilled to take advantage of to lighten your heavy load. But the response we’re getting is I’m on the design team, you’re not, go away until we figure it out.

    The rest of us hoped the design team would appreciate their roles as community representatives and LISTEN to us. Had I thought that wouldn’t be the case, I would have applied to be on the team so that it would be the case. Project based learning was a key selling point in all of the public meetings, it’s why we made the leap of faith.

    And, please, don’t assume we don’t know anything. I know what STEM is. My dad is a STEM teacher in another district and I have done my research.

    I do look forward to working with you and ALL of the parents who have made this commitment.

  • kiddos March 30, 2012 (9:36 am)

    wsmama3 – Contrary to Oliver’s comments I have been impressed at the openness exuded by the design comittee. There is so much to digest and I appreciate the committees willingnesss to look at all the opportunities and options. Not everyone will be 100% satisfied with the decisions but the negative energy seems a bit over the top. A school is always a work in progress. Thanks to all that are putting forth the time and energy to get this school off the ground.

  • wsmama3 March 30, 2012 (11:19 am)

    Oliver – thank you for your feedback (and thanks kiddos for the encouragement!). It’s not been my intent to alienate anyone and I am really sorry that has been your experience.

    I sat through all the community meetings and took extensive notes. I was really interested in what other parents vision for a new school was. I feel that it’s my commitment to my kids and to this school to go in as open as possible and help make decisions that are well thought out. Do I personally think project based learning is the way to go and will I advocate for that – yes. But, if anyone had a different idea I’d listen to that too before a decision is made.

    More opportunities for involvement will come up. The DT and SPS are really getting that the backing of the community is amazing. I will make sure to post any and all help / requests / opportunities on the blog and on the yahoo group.

    I look forward to working with the DT and with the community, the future PTA and SPS to make this what we are all dreaming of.

    Truly – I am sorry that you feel this way and thanks for the feedback so I could address it directly.

  • evergreen March 30, 2012 (1:34 pm)

    wsmama — You are the only member of the Design team who has dialogued with the community, and I’m unsure if that is by your choice or if you are the designated spokesperson. Regardless, I truly appreciate all of the information you provide & your thoughtful consideration of our comments. Is anyone else on the Design team really looking at the yahoo group on a regular basis?//

    Personally, I think it would be a grave error if the school was not project-based. Seattle Public Schools does not have the best reputation locally or nationwide, and there is a risk of creating a STEM school that is STEM in name only (ie. gives extra “training” to teachers, uses more fancy gadgets, and offers extra math or science classes…but stops there). “21st century learning” should mirror what is happening in the workplace and universities, for it is these things that we are preparing our children. The required skills — working collaboratively to solve a problem, communicating effectively with diverse groups of people, thinking critically and creatively, and engaging in self-assessment and reflection. Additionally, project-based + hands-on learning is enjoyable for kids! Rather than just using a computer to take a test, they could create gadgets that solve an identified need (or perhaps they just make a cool thing that teaches engineering principals). A project-based environment is one in which questions are asked, alternative solutions are considered, many ideas are expressed and heard, and experiments come naturally. It inherently incorporates the scientific process. //
    So rather than “should we have project-based learning?”, I hope the question becomes, “how can we incorporate project-based learning in a way that is meaningful, deep, and sustaining, and utilizes multiple subjects, encourages critical thinking and self-reflection, stretches the imagination, and assists the children in reaching their full potential?”…

  • Harry March 30, 2012 (4:26 pm)

    “Big Ideas”?! That’s Teach for America-speak. Seriously.

  • fiverson March 30, 2012 (5:42 pm)

    I encourage everyone to move the STEM discussion over to the Yahoo Group where Design Team members are reading and responding to questions and ideas. WSmama3 set up the Yahoo group to facilitate community involvement (after setting up a Google group and then making the switch based on community feedback!). She is not the designated spokesperson; she just took the initiative to foster open 2-way communication with the community. The desire for that was expressed at the first Design Team meeting both by team members and observers. The public testimony time was also added as part of that discussion. Please join in the Yahoo group discussion and come to the meetings if you can.

  • Oliver March 30, 2012 (9:10 pm)

    Actually, it was another parent, not a design team member, who first suggested, and did the work, to set up the yahoo group. But I do appreciate that Robin responded to the suggestion.

Sorry, comment time is over.