Springfield school expands as STEM jobs grow, seeks $6M for renovation

The Global Impact STEM Academy will expand to seventh and eighth grade students as the field continues to add tens of thousands of science, technology, engineering and math jobs in the state.

That will also likely lead to an additional $6 million renovation at the Springfield Center for Innovation: The Dome and about 12 more teachers.

The school’s student body has more than quadrupled since it opened its doors in 2012, GISA Director Joshua Jennings said. It currently has 260 students.

“There’s a desire to look for a different approach toward education,” he said.

STEM jobs in the U.S. will increase 14 percent until 2020, according to information from the U.S. Department of Education, yet 3 million of those jobs will go unfilled by 2018. That’s partly because only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in mathematics and interested in a STEM career, the data shows.

The U.S. ranks 25th in mathematics and 17th in science among industrialized nations.

The science, technology, engineering and math school located in the former South High School at 700 S. Limestone St. continues to attract more students each year. It plans to implement a lottery system for enrollment next year if more than 100 freshmen sign up for the 2016-2017 school year.

“There’s more interest than what we have spots available for,” he said.

Continued enrollment and interest from local students and families is what led the GISA board members to vote unanimously this week to expand the school to include seventh and eighth grades, Jennings said.

More and more careers — particularly in the agriculture field — go unfilled locally, said Pam Clark, a guidance counselor at Global Impact.

Schools like GISA want to keep prospective workers here instead of them moving to other regions for jobs, Clark said.

“If we can kind of create that pool for this area and introduce students to STEM then maybe we’ll keep some our students in Clark County versus if they go away to school and never come back,” she said.

Ohio will add more than 27,000 STEM jobs per year by 2018, according to data form the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The expanded GISA classes are a great opportunity for more students in the region to take advantage of in-demand education and job training, said Michael McDorman, CEO and president of the Chamber of Greater Springfield.

Recently a food industry executive toured the school and was shocked at what it offered students, McDorman said.

“When company executives from outside of Springfield come in and see what is done there, you’d be hard pressed to find a handful of examples like that around the country,” he said.

Some current GISA students said they wish they could have been exposed to the curriculum and culture of the school earlier.

“You don’t think that kids are going to be like, ‘This is important and I’ve got to think about where I’m going to school,’ because it’s something you usually wait until you go to college to do,” freshman Allison Sanders said.

The classroom discussions and job experiences Sanders experienced at GISA helped her realize her interest in zoology, but the 15-year-old wishes she could have been exposed to GISA earlier.

“If we give that to seventh and eighth graders they’re going to say ‘Wow I didn’t know that was out there!,’” she said.

GISA’s students come from 16 districts in four counties.

Adding middle schoolers will level the playing field for them to excel through high school and beyond, Jennings said, and all get their math and science skills on par with each other.

“One of the most important things is filling gaps early,” he said.

GISA is in the process of applying for money to renovate more space in The Dome through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission. The school would renovate an addition 20,000 to 25,000 square feet of classroom space, Jennings said, and would spend roughly $6 million.

GISA would need to add 12 people to its current staff of 22 employees to accommodate the new students, Jennings added.

An open house for prospective students and parents will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 2 at the Clark State Hollenbeck Bayley Creative Arts and Conference Center.

Reporter Katie Wedell contributed to this report.

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