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Originally published Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 9:23 PM

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Seattle School Board OKs contract for new Cleveland science-tech program

The Seattle School Board Wednesday approved an $800,000 contract that will help Cleveland High open a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program this fall.

Seattle Times education reporter

The Seattle School Board Wednesday approved an $800,000 contract that will help Cleveland High open a new science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program this fall.

The vote was 4 to 2, with the two newest board members — Betty Patu and Kay Smith-Blum — opposed. Board President Michael DeBell was absent.

Under the 3 ½ year contract, Cleveland will become part of a network of 41 schools called the New Technology Network. Not all have a science-technology focus, but all teach primarily through projects rather than lectures, an approach Cleveland High staff think would help students excel.

The network would provide Cleveland teachers and administrators with extensive training, curriculum and help from colleagues experienced in project-based teaching.

Despite concerns about the cost of the contract in difficult economic times, board members who supported the contract said it's vital to turn Cleveland into a strong, popular school fast.

"It's a bold move," said Harium Martin-Morris. "I think it's the right move and quite frankly, doing nothing is not an option."

Peter Maier added that the district is counting on Cleveland to attract more students so that other high schools won't be overcrowded under the new school boundaries — which also will be phased in starting this fall.

But Smith-Blum, who joined the board after the decision to place a STEM program at Cleveland, said it was unclear to her whether other, less expensive alternatives had been well-vetted, and whether the team planning the STEM program was given a budget to work with.

She also said she doesn't think the New Technology Network is a good match for Cleveland, in part because its most successful schools are much smaller than Cleveland.

Under the new boundary plan, Cleveland will no longer be a neighborhood high school. Instead, it will be an "option" school, one which students must sign up to attend and with spaces assigned by lottery if necessary.

The STEM program will be phased in, starting with freshmen and sophomores this coming fall.

The district says the STEM program will be rigorous, with students required to take four years of math, including calculus and four years of science.

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The goal is for Cleveland to become a standout school with many more students than it has now. The building can hold about 1,000 students; enrollment this year is about 700.

In approving the contract, some School Board members acknowledged the difficulty of spending so much money when the district is faced with making deep budget cuts for the second year in a row.

The district hasn't identified where it will find part of the money to get the STEM program up and running over the next four years. Last month, district staff said they were still looking for $180,000 of the $730,000 needed for the 2010-11 school year.

But staff members have said they're confident they will find it.

In all, the district plans to spend $2.6 million to $2.8 million on startup costs over four years.

Some parents and community members have questioned the contract because of low test scores in some of the New Technology Network schools. But some of the schools are also doing well, with high graduation and college-attendance rates.

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com

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