School Board Member Hopes to Begin STEM Academy

By Leah Small, The Progress-Index

COLONIAL HEIGHTS – School Board member Krishan Agrawal hopes that the board will approve the creation of a science technology and engineering academy to ensure that students can compete for jobs after graduation.

If a STEM academy is made available to students, it will be added to a list of 23 Governor’s STEM academies across the state. The Virginia Department of Education approved programs offer vocational and academic training outside of standard curriculum and hold high academic standards for students in the academies.

Agrawal is scheduled to present the proposal to the School Board on Tuesday at 8 a.m. The board will consider if it will approve the formation of a committee to look into the feasibility of creating an academy.

Agrawal, who is a professor of math and computer science, said that the academy would help to attract young families in search of a strong system to Colonial Heights.

He also that improved STEM education throughout the country would decrease the reliance of U.S. companies on foreign employees with HB-1 visas, which go to workers in specialized fields.

“It [STEM] is not a buzzword. It has meaning. If you look at other countries, they are putting money into nurturing their children in this way,” he said. “It’s not a new idea.”

According to Agrawal, the Virginia Department of Education gives newly approved STEM academies $5,000 for start up costs. Agrawal projects that the division would need to spend $20,000 to research the feasibility and $146,000 implementing the program in the first year. Agrawal also said that the division may also look into grant funding for the program.

The school division is already a member of the MathScience Innovation Center, which is a partnership of six local school divisions focused providing additional STEM education. The center is based in Richmond and offers resources to parents and teachers such as field trips, interactive lessons, visits to classrooms from center teachers, professional development and online and weekend classes.

Agrawal said that while the program is effective, it is underused because it is not close to the division. He also noted that the school division pays over $50,000 annually to be members of the center.

Agrawal said that if the program is approved in Colonial Heights, the school division could hold the academy in its technical center. He said that faculty from nearby higher education institutions could also teach many of the classes, which could be held on evenings and weekends.

Students in the academy would follow a separate academic track in addition to standard curriculum. But students outside of the academy may also take courses.

Agrawal proposed that students have the ability to choose focus from three areas to include business management and data analysis, health sciences and engineering.

The school board member said that if the program is approved, he hopes that the first class of ninth graders may join the academy in the fall of 2016. He aims for the preliminary design to be drawn up by December.