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St. Helens district board moves forward with STEM school

Columbia City School would focus on science, technology, engineering and math


School board members for the St. Helens School District talked more about a potential magnet school in Columbia City geared toward science and math education Wednesday, Aug. 28, approving the formation of committees to explore the possibility.

The idea of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) magnet school was first pitched to the school board by district Superintendent Mark Davalos at an Aug. 14 worksession. At that meeting, Davalos suggested that if the St. Helens School District applied for and was awarded state grants for STEM education, it could reopen the Columbia City School as a magnet for elementary students, perhaps eventually expanding to serve middle school students.by: MARK MILLER - The Columbia City School, which the St. Helens School District is considering as the future site of a science-focused magnet school. The district closed the Columbia City School last year due to limited funding.

“As you discuss, if you would say, ‘You know, we all feel that this is a good idea, but this is not the year to do this,’ and you wanted it to stop, you need to let me know, because there’s a whole lot of other things I could be doing,” Davalos told board members on Wednesday. “But I will put a lot of my time and energy into this possibility if this is something that the board feels we should go forward in doing.”

The board members unanimously backed Davalos, saying the district should move ahead with planning for the project.

“I’m for it,” said Kellie Smith. “I think we should, can definitely check it out.”

Ray Biggs said that a magnet school would expand families’ education options.

“I’m enthusiastic about it, not only because I live in Columbia City and I know that we would like to see that school utilized, but also because I am really open for anything that is different,” Biggs said. “It gives people more choices. ... Kids maybe will fit the STEM program that don’t fit the standard school curriculum, or if they want to go into engineering or something — I think it’s fantastic.”

Board members reiterated that they want to see the STEM school project move ahead only if grants can be secured to fund it.

“I’m very in favor of this, and I do want to support it, but we need to fund it through grants and not through the general fund, and not take money away from what we’re doing now,” said Gordon Jarman. His sentiment was immediately echoed by Marshall Porter, board chairman.

“When you’re applying for the grants, are you applying for more than one and hoping we get one?” Smith asked Davalos.

“As many as we can,” Davalos confirmed.

Legislation that passed and was signed into law earlier this year makes millions of dollars available over the next year in education grants. The $75 million “strategic investments” include grant money for STEM education.