York City superintendent previews STEAM School at town hall

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
  • The Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy will open to 300 students next month.
  • Angela Ashley has been named principal of the school, coming from Devers K-8.
  • Holmes assured local residents that the school and its students will be "good neighbors."

York City School District Superintendent Eric Holmes addressed about 50 city residents Tuesday, July 26, updating them on the new Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy scheduled to open in a few weeks.

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

Holmes spoke at the start of a mayoral town hall held at the school, delivering remarks on the rationale for delivering a school focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).

He said the time is now for a new school based the STEAM model, adding the school is the first of its kind in the county.

York City Superintendent Dr. Eric Holmes speaks to city residents during a mayoral town hall meeting at the Edgar Fahs Smith STEAM Academy on Tuesday, July 26, 2017.

Holmes said opening the academy at the former middle school building, which he led as principal from 2002-07, is a poetic move for the district.

“How appropriate that a scientist will be the namesake for this school,” he said of famed York-born scientist and University of Pennsylvania provost Edgar Fahs Smith.

The Smith STEAM Academy will open along with all other York City schools on Aug. 21 with an initial enrollment of 300 students from third through eighth grade.

“There’s been a lot put into this,” Holmes said of the school, which has a first year startup cost of $2.5 million.

New details: Holmes outlined a few new details regarding the school, including logistical plans and academic goals.

Dr. Eric Holmes

The district will bus students from other school buildings around the district with the exception of the Devers K-8 and Ferguson K-8. About 75 percent of STEAM Academy students will be bused to the school on Texas Avenue in York City, Holmes said.

The superintendent also introduced former Devers K-8 Assistant Principal Angela Ashley as the principal of the Smith STEAM Academy.

The admission of students in grades 3-8 will reduce class sizes across K-8 schools in the district, administrators say.

Holmes  emphasized the STEAM Academy’s plan to be an educational innovator in the county by establishing project-based learning across all curriculum, which requires collaboration among students.

“We want kids to be able to come up with a problem and then come up with a solution, because that’s the real world.” he said.

“Sitting in a classroom in rows of 10 listening to somebody talk is not how to educate children in 2017,” Holmes added.

York City resident Kim Jones said she was excited that the school will be emphasizing to young girls fields of study that are typically male-dominated.

"We don't have enough females in the sciences," she said. "So I'm glad to see that they're focusing on that.

Q&A: Holmes fielded a few questions from city residents, with one person asking what the requirements are to be admitted to the school.

“You have to want to be here,” he said. Although there was no academic requirement, he added students will have to keep a “75 average” and be a “good citizen” to stay in the school.

After receiving a warm welcome back from a neighborhood resident, Holmes said he was excited to bring the hilltop school back to The Avenues neighborhood.

“The fact that it hasn’t had the sound of children walking through the streets I think is a sad thing,” he said. “We’re happy to be back.”

Holmes also assured residents that the experience will be “a whole different situation than what it was a few years ago," regarding vandalism and bad behavior.

“We’re going to be good neighbors,” he said.

Some local residents were cautiously optimistic about the school's re-opening.

"I like that they're using the building again," said Robert Krebbs, a resident who lives near the school. "We obviously pay taxes on it, so it should be used."

Krebbs said the STEAM model is a good way for the school to stay competitive in a school-choice environment.

Jonathan Brown, another nearby resident, said he's glad students will be focused on STEAM and  will be held accountable for their grades.

"Hopefully it's a school and not a daycare," he said.

Holmes invited town-hall attendees to visit the STEAM school’s official open house at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9. The open house, which will include a tour of the school with all teachers and staff present, is open to the public.