The Global Impact STEM Academy held a lottery for the first time in the rapidly growing school’s three-year history after more students than expected applied to join next year’s freshman class.
The high demand is the latest indication of the school’s success following much skepticism in the community at its inception.
“The buy-in from the staff, the parents and the students, is really what has driven this,” said Joshua Jennings, founding director. “The number one reason students want to attend is not so much the programming as it is the culture that we’ve created in our school and that’s really exciting to see.”
School adding new jobs
As the school expands, it is also hiring more staff.
GISA will hire four or five additional teachers for next school year and is currently searching for a director of middle school programming to oversee operations of the seventh and eighth grade wing of the school to be added in 2017.
That expansion will consist of enrolling 100 students in each grade, increasing the school’s overall enrollment to approximately 600 students by the 2017-18 school year, up from 50 freshmen its first year.
An additional 17 new staff members will be hired in 2017.
In order to accommodate the expansion, the school has secured $6.3 million through the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to renovate additional space on the third floor of the Springfield Center for Innovation: The Dome, with work possibly starting as early as June, Jennings said.
Securing the money to renovate that building through an Ohio Straight-A Grant in 2014 was key to allowing GISA to expand as quickly as it has, according to Ed Leventhal, GISA governing board chair. He also credits Jennings and the rest of the staff’s hard work with the school’s success.
GISA received 188 applications for next year with 165 of them being for about 100 freshman class spots and the rest for sophomore class spots if available.
The school held a lottery and filled 110 freshman slots, putting the rest on an alternate list in the order their numbers were called, Jennings said.
Some parents expressed frustration about the lottery process, asking why student grades weren’t taken into account.
Lottery vs. academic performance
Because its a public school, GISA can’t choose students based on academic performance, Jennings said. “We have to be inclusive and therefore can’t make selections based on a desire to go there or past performance,” he said.
The school conducts interviews to make sure GISA is the right fit for students and may make recommendations that parents look elsewhere if that isn’t the case, but those interviews did not play into students’ positions in the lottery.
The only exception was 11 spots reserved for students who have siblings already attending and for the children of staff members, Jennings said.
The lottery will be used going forward if applications continue to exceed space, he said.
GISA’s enrollment growth has been similar to other STEM schools in Columbus and Dayton, Jennings said, and which districts students come from has mirrored the county population. If that distribution were to get out of whack to where too many students were being pulled from one district, the school might adjust the lottery system, he said.
“It’s nice to have that problem,” said Wanda Truss, member of GISA’s governing board and the Springfield City School District Board of Education.
“There was a lot of skepticism that this would not work,” she said. “Obviously it is.”
GISA benefits the community
And the benefits for the community have gone beyond the academic opportunities for hundreds of local students.
“We were able to utilize a building that has had historical value, and help that side of town,” Truss said of the reuse of the former South High School building.
Some people expressed concerns about that location during the school’s planning process because they felt the neighborhood’s reputation as being unsafe, whether justified or not, would deter parents from sending their kids there.
“We had a lot of push-back,” Leventhal said. “But based on the enrollment and based on the broad support from a wide variety of school districts (10 or 11 this year)… it shows the reach of the program.”
Local school districts were also concerned that they would lose students and funding to the STEM school.
But the exodus hasn’t been large from any one district and students that have chosen GISA are benefiting from that environment, Truss said.
“Even though we are losing students, everybody learns differently and I think everyone should be given every opportunity,” she said.
School focuses on career, personal development
GISA’s program focuses on career readiness in the fields of food and agriculture, environmental studies, health care and energy through a mastery curriculum that uses real-world, hands-on projects.
It’s very different than anything currently offered in the area so there is no duplication, Leventhal said.
“The Global Impact STEM Academy does a great job in serving secondary students in STEM fields, and that focus is very appealing to students and parents alike,” said Clark State Community College President Jo Alice Blondin, who serves on GISA’s governing board.
The ability to receive college credit though Clark State is an added cost savings and a draw for families, she said.
Students said they appreciate the small size of the school, even as it adds grade levels each year, because it equates to lots of personalized attention from their teachers.
Junior student Angel Canter is part of the original class of 50 that spent their first two years at a building on Clark State’s campus. She had to convince her mom to let her attend GISA, but now says her mom wouldn’t let her leave if she wanted to.
“All the teachers… they really want to get to know you and get to know what works for you,” she said.
Sophomore Kolesen McCoy also enjoys the unique environment and culture.
“It’s a lot more one-on-one interactions and it fuels your learning,” he said.
Previously anxious in social situations, Canter said GISA has helped her with real-world skills like public speaking.
“It’s definitely made me think a lot differently. It’s helped me network a lot with different people. And it’s definitely helped my speaking skills and my social skills a lot too,” she said.
Attending has sparked her love of science, but also made her realize that she actually wants to pursue an English major in college and possibly a career in journalism.
“Even though it’s a STEM school and we focus on engineering and (agriculture) and all that stuff, I got tons of help with my English,” she said.
McCoy wants to pursue engineering and said GISA’s focus on agriculture has piqued his interest in that field.
“I know there’s a big business in that as well,” he said.
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