Principal of Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology In the years since it first opened its doors in 2009, this trail-blazing Georgia Department of Education STEMcertified school with an enrollment of 990 students has operated as an open Charter School. Currently, any eighth grader in Gwinnett County can register for a lottery number, but only 350 lucky students will become part of the incoming freshman class each year. EG: WHAT SETS THE GWINNETT SCHOOL OF MATHEMATICS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (GSMST) APART FROM OTHER SCHOOLS IN THE STATE AND IN THE NATION? IVB: It all starts with our curriculum. There are three major differences between what we require and the state minimum. First, we require 26 Carnegie units, not the state minimum of 23. [Carnegie units are the credits awarded for successful completion of high school courses.] Second, we require five Advanced Placement courses (Biology, Calculus, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics and English Literature or Language), although most of our seniors graduate having attempted seven courses or more. [The star student in the Class of 2015 took 14 AP exams and made fives on all of them.] Third, all of our students complete internships their junior and senior years at GSMST, the last of which is a full-year capstone experience. Our curriculum is very rigorous and our graduates are prepared for the college and career path of their choice. EG: WHY DO YOU FEEL STEM EDUCATION IS SO IMPORTANT TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUTSTANDING STUDENTS AND OUR FUTURE WORKFORCE? IVB: I think the emphasis you are seeing on STEM education nationwide is the 21st century Sputnik response to the need for workers in our economy to be better thinkers, collaborators and problem solvers. Beyond the content knowledge required by in-demand jobs (e.g. computers, health care, etc.), the flat world is demanding that American workers, managers and entrepreneurs be faster, better and more productive than ever before in order to compete on a global scale – which is the new normal. EG: FOR WHAT ACCOMPLISHMENTS TO DATE ARE YOU MOST PROUD? IVB: I am proud of our incredible teaching faculty – they are highly talented and very committed to what we do. I am proud when our students win robotics competitions and math tournament titles. And I am proud of the consistently high level of student achievement results that our school and our students accomplish. However, the most special characteristic of our school is the culture that exists. Both former principals of GSMST and I have understood how important it is to foster a learning environment where everyone can perform at high levels. Education is not a zero-sum activity and our students pull each other along to levels beyond where they could have gone individually. The demographic makeup of GSMST almost perfectly matches that of the 176,000 students in Gwinnett County Public Schools. Our students work hard are inclusive and accepting of others. EG: WITH ALL OF YOUR SCHOOL’S INCREDIBLE ACHIEVEMENTS, IN WHAT AREAS DO YOU HOPE TO IMPROVE IN THE FUTURE? IVB: Our biggest opportunities for improvement are in the areas of computer programming, computer engineering and information technology. We are in the process of expanding our curriculum to give students the opportunity to ‘dive deep’ in an area where, quite frankly, some students come to school knowing more than their teacher knows. We have incoming freshmen who have already taught themselves advanced programming and app development, and we are working hard to craft a curricular experience to match their needs. The challenge here is finding the right teacher since the most qualified instructors in this area can easily earn three to four times a teaching salary in the private sector. EG: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MOST POPULAR CLASSES AND/OR OUTSTANDING AREAS OF YOUR CURRENT CURRICULUM? IVB: Beyond our required curriculum, we have strong enrollment in advanced STEM electives (AP Physics C-EM, AP Chemistry, Advanced Genetics, Advanced 3-D Modeling, Advanced Robotics, Analytical Forensic Science, AP Psychology, AP Computer Science, etc.) while also offering a full complement of fine arts courses (Orchestra and Band at a variety of levels, Digital Photography, Chorus, Music Technology, AP Studio Art, PE classes at a variety of levels, etc.). There is no one most popular course or discipline and that is by design. EG: WHAT IS YOUR MALE TO FEMALE RATIO AT THE SCHOOL? WHAT IS YOUR SCHOOL’S STANCE ON GETTING MORE WOMEN INVOLVED IN THE FIELD OF ENGINEERING? IVB: This ratio has been fairly steady over the last several school years and within each year as well. We are roughly 58 to 42, male to female (+/- two percent). We have a number of support and encouragement mechanisms for female students, including (1) all students at GSMST must complete a three-course Engineering pathway; (2) we have specific robotics and WISE groups for girls; and (3) half of our freshman physics and engineering faculty are female. In addition, the robust STEM outreach program we have at GSMST includes female students reaching out to girls in elementary and middle schools to encourage continuation of their interest in STEM curriculum. EG: WHAT SCHOOLS OF HIGHER LEARNING DO MANY OF YOUR GRADUATES ATTEND? IVB: Our two most popular university destinations are the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech – obviously proximity and costs are factors here. However, we send students all over the country. Based on the current U.S. News & World Reports’ rankings of top universities, we have students at eight of the top ten, including Harvard, Princeton and MIT; based on their list of top liberal arts schools, we have current alumni at five of the top ten, including Williams College, Swarthmore College and Wellesley College. We currently have at least one former student attending each of the Ivy League Schools. EG: ARE THERE ANY UNIQUE PROJECTS IN WHICH YOUR STUDENTS HAVE TAKEN PART THAT YOU FEEL BEST EXEMPLIFIES STEM EDUCATION? IVB: We have two seniors this year who, when they were in tenth grade and enrolled in our required Engineering Applications course, created a product as a project. Their product solved a common smart phone problem and they put into practice the engineering design process and soft ware proficiency they had mastered the year before. They designed their product including rendering it with CAD soft ware; they produced a prototype on one of our 3D printers; and they submitted their product to the Technology Student Association (TSA) National Conference (which is really an international competition) where their product finished second in the Manufacturing Prototype category. Their subsequent work involved revising their design and working through the patent process. The real future of STEM education involves combining theory with practice and giving students the experiential learning they need to be scientists, engineers, technicians and entrepreneurs, while easily being able to cross over from one field to another as their interests or market forces dictate.
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