Global Impact STEM Academy began with a vision to teach students an agricultural and biological science curriculum that would lead to high-paying jobs.
It also began with 50 students and a small staff sharing two rooms at Clark State Community College when its doors opened in 2013.
On Wednesday, more than 350 students started classses at GISA, including members of what will be its first graduating class.
“It’s been a great journey, and I’m sad to be leaving soon,” said Wesley Sizemore, a senior who was the first to apply to the school. “Any kid with an interest in science or something STEM related, or just a passion for learning, should definitely come here.”
GISA next year could reach its maxiumum capacity of a potential 400 high school students and 200 more in a new middle school program.
School gains more students
Founding Director Joshua Jennings said last spring was the first time the school had to conduct a lottery when more students than expected applied for the freshman class.
The school went from 50 ninth graders its first year to 146 ninth and tenth graders in 2014.
GISA boasted 260 ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade students last fall, the first year in their permanent building at the Springfield Center of Innovation: The Dome inside the former South High School.
This school season there are 367 students in grades 9-12.
Michael Payne is one of the first teachers hired and has seen new challenges with more students.
“It’s really intriguing to see what you can’t do anymore. When you have a group of 50, it’s amazing what you can do,” said Payne.
Payne, however, said with more students he has a better pool to draw from when assessing if projects have worked well.
The school faced skepticism from some in the community in the beginning, including fears that the program would funnel kids out of the nearby school districts.
Thirty percent of GISA students are from Springfield City Schools, and 64 percent are from other Clark County districts, according to Jennings. He said many of these students could have also been home schooled or taken advantage of other educational options without GISA.
The school will have its first graduation on May 24, 2017.
Sizemore expect to be one of those students. He was initially attracted by the fast-paced style and the passion of the teachers.
“I decided I want to do bio-medical engineering,” said Sizemore. Noting that the medical and engineering fields have jumped out at him during his time at GISA.
Class President Angel Canter said the culture has played a key role in why the school has worked. “It’s always been laid back and loose; at the same time, you know where restrictions are,” said Canter.
“It’s grown so much from freshmen year. We had 48 students back then, now we have close to 400. It means adjusting, but it also means seeing a culture that you’ve built grow tremendously,” she said.
That culture that includes playing music at lunch and using a project-based learning approach.
Attending has satisfied her love for engineering, but Canter said she actually wants to pursue an English major in college and possibly a career in journalism. She credits the decision to her English teachers.
“Global Impact puts everything into picking teachers that will put their all into this school, not just getting teachers in specific fields,” said Canter.
Staff continues to grow with students
The staff size at GISA has more than tripled since its inception.
In 2013 there were 7 full-time staff and 12 by 2014. Then in 2015 the school added nine more jobs, bringing the total to 21. This year, GISA has 27 staff members.
Jennings hired Middle School Director Jill Anon and Middle School Consultant Cameron McCoy last year.
Anon was attracted by student engagement and the amount of active learning happening in the classrooms.
“It’s a great culture…They’re here for the kids and you don’t normally see a complete staff like that,” Anon said.
McCoy is teaching English this year. He previously taught for four years in Yellow Springs, where he became experienced with project-based learning.
“My first week here, I knew I was in the right place,” McCoy said.
He and Anaon are charged with designing the middle school program. McCoy said one task is hiring more staff.
An additional 18 new staff members are estimated for next school year, depending on programming specifics, Jennings said.
Budget increases with staff, students
GISA’s budget continues to rise as costs to support the number of students and building expand.
In 2014 the school’s total budget was $1,138,336; this year’s is $2,967,421. The projected budget for 2018, a year after the new middle school is expected to be established, is $4,566,986.
The first two years GISA leased space at Clark State as officials worked to develop plans for space at the former South High with the help of Kapp Construction.
In the early summer of 2014, the school secured funds for the renovation through a Straight A grant in collaboration with Springfield City Schools, Clark Shawnee, and Springfield-Clark CTC. They invested more than $6 million with funds from the grant and those raised through private fund-raising and capital investments through their general fund.
Also, in the summer of 2014, the GISA board and Springfield City School District Board of Education agreed to a 20-year lease for space in the building.
Last year, they applied for and were given approval for matching funds through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission’s STEM assistance program. GISA now is in the planning process for the second phase of the renovation project that will invest an additional $6.3 million. Construction is expected to begin early this fall and finish up next summer.
Jennings expects to start the application process for grades 7-9 at the first of November with a kick-off event.
Interested families are encouraged to check in this fall on the GISA website and social media outlets.
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