High School STEM

By: Todd Martin
The boards of trustees of the Killeen Independent School District and Central Texas College met in special joint session in the heart of one STEM academy to discuss the next steps in forming an expansion.

Killeen ISD Superintendent John Craft and CTC Chancellor Jim Yeonopolus praised the teamwork between the two entities and suggested much work ahead to roll out a STEM-focused dual credit program for high school students.

The two boards of trustees met Tuesday in the library of the new Roy J. Smith Middle School, which hosts KISD’s Middle School STEM Academy.

With assistance from KISD STEM Director Cynthia Hodges, administrators described a collaborative program that would allow students in any KISD high school to spend part of their school day at CTC in a “Middle College High School” configuration.

The format would allow ninth- and 10th-graders to stay at their home campus and as juniors and seniors transition to the dual campus schedule, maintaining the ability to take part in extra-curricular activities.

Board members praised the idea as they discussed details, with plans in a future meeting to cast an official vote on the required memorandum of understanding between the two entities.

The high school STEM program would resemble KISD’s Early College High School, which is also a partnership with CTC and Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

Now in its third year, ECHS allows KISD high school students to complete two years of college simultaneously with high school. Those students stay all day at the Early College campus with freshmen and sophomores in the former Smith Middle School building on Fort Hood and juniors at CTC.

“When you set expectations high, it’s amazing what they do,” Craft said, noting Early College students’ strong academic performance. Next year will be the first for the school to have a senior class and its first graduation.

“We’re pushing new frontiers of innovation,” the superintendent said, explaining that he was not aware of a similar high school STEM collaboration with a college anywhere in the state.

Acknowledging initial hesitancy about high school freshmen on a college campus, Yeonopolus said the college faculty has embraced the KISD ECHS students at the college. “They are truly motivated,” he said.

Bringing another group of high school students, these focusing on the STEM areas of science, technology, engineering and math, will be a new challenge, he said.

Pending a positive vote from each set of trustees, the first year of the high school STEM program would likely include a group of 250 students in a morning session and another group of 250 in an afternoon session at CTC.

They would choose among three options of study with different levels of college hours attempted. One option would allow the students to earn an associate’s degree. Another option would be geared toward Career Technology Education students.

The three options are an attempt to provide pathways for all learners, said Assistant Superintendent Diana Miller. The options would allow for students to earn 30, 55 or 63 to 75 hours of college credit.

Accessibility and affordability have marked discussion between CTC and KISD leaders, Craft said. Estimates show the program could translate into earning a four-year college degree for about $11,000.