[From: Bill Sulzman - this is a very disturbing story
about the military industrial complex taking over a public
school lock, stock and barrel.]
Colorado Springs School District 11 will enter into a
grand experiment this fall
with a gambit to turn a troubled school into an science-aimed
institution where students will reach for the stars. As
leaders await the results, we explain how they've prepared to
test their hypothesis:
PROBLEM: Can a failed middle school in a low-income,
transient part of town be
remade into a high-achieving school?
BACKGROUND: The Emerson Edison Junior Academy had such
low test scores that it was
put on a federally-mandated improvement plan for several
years. But it didn't
improve, so Colorado Springs School District 11 was required
to restructure or close
the school. An idea to create a space-themed school was
bolstered when the nonprofit
U.S. Space Foundation expressed interest in partnering with
the school district to
create a unique school.
In December, the D-11 school board decided to keep the school
open and pursue the
HYPOTHESIS: A school with a rigorous, interdisciplinary
curriculum that has lots of
hands-on projects to show students how what they're learning
applies in the real
world can keep them engaged in education, help them achieve
and prepare them for
high school, college and the work world.
- School building, 4220 E. Pikes Peak Ave., that can
accommodate about 800 students.
- Desk, chairs, tables, computers, books and hundreds of
other school furnishings.
- Sixth, seventh and eighth graders from surrounding neighborhood, which has a high
percentage of apartment complexes, many low-income families,
families and is known as a high crime area.
- A principal, Larry Bartel, to pull it all together in about
- A staff of teachers, counselors and support professionals
willing to try new
things and be under a microscope as the school develops, and
who spent countless
hours getting the school ready.
- A partnership with the U.S. Space Foundation, which is
helping develop curriculum
and will provide experiential laboratories in its portion of
the campus, teacher
training and daily support for staff.
- A project-based interdisciplinary curriculum.
- Dozens of volunteers - including Fort Carson soldiers and
airmen from Peterson Air
Force Base - to get the school ready, mentor students and
- A culture of achievement that is created by the staff and
students and permeates everything.
The "testing" portion of this experiment being undertaken by
District 11 begins on
Tuesday, when about 530 students will walk through the doors
at the Jack Swigert
Aerospace Academy. That number is the first indicator of
success - the district
projected 475 students the first year. It also has attracted
students who have
enrolled from neighboring districts, Bartel said.
The critical results, as measured first in standardized test
scores and then in how
well the students do in high school, won't be known for
months or years.
But those involved in the school clearly believe that the
hypothesis will be proven
true and the school will become a model that will help others
bridge the achievement
gap between rich and poor, minority and white.
"This was a school that failed AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress)
for six years," said
Mary Ley,D-11's project manager. "Everyone knew what the
obstacles were and nobody
has shied away."
Including Bartel, an assistant principal at Palmer High
School and former physics
teacher who was named to lead the reborn school in March and
began working to create
it in April. He said he was attracted by "the science and the
"This project is bigger than any one person," he said. "One
of my biggest jobs is to
support the ideas and innovations of the staff."
While Tuesday may be a "typical first day" at Swigert, Bartel
said within three or
four days the students will notice the differences,
particularly the sixth graders.
Seventh and eighth graders will have a more traditional
curriculum this year,
although they'll get a flavor of the aerospace emphasis.
The school will forego bells, because there will be flexible
periods that could be
used for a long laboratory session or two shorter classes.
There will be more team
teaching, collaboration, mentoring and generally "more adults
in the building,"
Students will each be issued a "commanders log" that will
include work from all
subject areas so they can see how they relate.
And the sixth graders will do a project every nine weeks that
will be reviewed by
community experts. They'll build, for example, miniature
hydrogen fuel cell cars,
tiny solar cars and model rockets.
Bartel and Space Foundation curriculum experts said the goal
isn't to create a
school of rocket scientists, but rather to use space to
ignite an interest in
learning. In fact, D-11 has added the letter A to the STEM
acronym, which stands for
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and is calling it
a STEAM school because
it will include the arts.
Iain Probert, vice president for education for the Space
Foundation, said the beauty
of adding arts to a STEM school is that it will encourage
marketing specialists and others who play a vital role in the
But that would be part of "next steps" once the school brings
up those test scores
and proves the hypothesis.