York City proposes reopening Smith school for STEAM

Junior Gonzalez
  • The Edgar Fahs Smith School building could reopen as soon as soon as this fall.
  • Superintendent Eric Holmes proposed the plan, which has an estimated first-year cost of $2.57 million.
  • School board President Margie Orr called the proposed school a "wonderful" addition to the district.

York City's superintendent proposed reopening a former middle school building to create an academy focusing on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics during the school board’s committee meeting Monday night.

During Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Eric Holmes said the proposal would transfer and expand the district's existing STEAM program at Ferguson K-8 to the building that housed the former Edgar Fahs Smith Middle School, where Holmes served as principal for several years.

Holmes called Ferguson K-8 “extremely overcrowded” and said reopening Smith as a school focused on technology would encourage students who would otherwise go to charter and vocational schools to stay in the district.

Options: “We want to provide parents options,” Holmes said to the board. “It keeps (students) here instead of that option being out of the school district.”

The existing STEAM program has been in place at Ferguson since 2009 and offers specialized instruction for one classroom in each grade it is available in, currently fourth through eighth.

There are 150 students enrolled in the program at Ferguson. Under the new proposal, the program would serve 300 students from third through eighth grade.

The school would integrate the looping model, which keeps teachers with students through two consecutive years of their education. From third to sixth grade, one teacher will focus on math and science while another teacher will instruct English language arts and social studies. For seventh and eighth grade, a single teacher will instruct the four core subjects. Each of these teachers will "loop" with their students from third to fourth grade, then fifth to sixth grade, and so on.

The York City School District Superintendent announced a proposal to re-open the Edgar Fahs Smith School building, pictured, to be a modified STEM academy. Amanda J. Cain photo

A proposal was made earlier in the evening outlining plans to implement looping from first through sixth grade in all of the K-8 schools in the district.

“This has been a long process,” Holmes said of the school's opening plan. “What we decided to do was to take a look at (the STEAM) program and think about ways we could expand it, because we believe there’s a lot of good in that program that we want to spread to more students."

The STEAM committee, composed of district educators, looked at a variety of avenues the new school could take. The committee then narrowed its focus to either STEM or a modified STEM program that integrated arts. They decided on the latter.

“Having the arts component has been phenomenal” at Ferguson, Holmes said.

The plan: Under a five-year plan, the school would progressively increase its initial enrollment from 300 students in grades 3-8 to more than 500 students in grades 3-12. A new grade would be added each year until the fifth year of the academy’s operation.

Class sizes would be capped at 25 students, according to Holmes.

The proposal did not include an expected opening date, but it said the district would use funds from the state budget proposal by Gov. Tom Wolf to fund the school’s opening.

The school’s administration anticipates a first-year cost of $2.57 million to reopen and operate the school.

The school would use some of the funding from the state budget as well as some expected recuperation of students from charter and technical schools in the area. The rest of the funding for the school will be covered by the district's fund balance.

After announcing the cost to the board, Holmes asked the school district’s business manager, Richard Snodgrass, whether the district would allocate funding for the new school.

“We’ve gone through the numbers, and I think it’s doable,” Snodgrass said.

The school would have 12 core classroom teachers and would hire a technology education teacher, a computer science teacher, one special education teacher, one English-language-learner teacher and several art, music and physical education teachers, according to Holmes.

The “core instructional strategy” for the school will be project-based learning, requiring collaboration between students that gives them more range to decide where to take their ideas.

'Look at us now': “We’re looking at taking public education in this school district and turning it on its head,” Holmes said. “This will be the first start.”

“Three years ago, they wanted to take us over,” Holmes said of the state Department of Education. “And now, we’re looking to take a step that no other district in this county has even considered taking.”

Holmes said, referencing the district’s ongoing recovery plan, “You do those things when you’re in the midst of it.”

He ended his presentation to the board with a quote from well-known educator Tony Wagner: “The world doesn’t care what you know but what you can do with what you do know.”

Board president Margie Orr mentioned her own excitement for the program, calling it a “wonderful” proposal.

“This venture was one of the reasons that made me decide to run for the district again,” she said. “We were facing a lot of stuff three or four years ago, but look at us now, look at us now.”