Archive for Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Biotech school waiting state approval

November 26, 2003

A grant application for a biotechnology charter school should go before the state department of education early next month with the USD 491 Board of Education's approval of the idea Friday.
Superintendent Marty Kobza emphasized all plans for a biotechology-focused "high school within a high school" were just that -- plans --until the state made a final decision in February. The district will submit a preliminary proposal next week, after which the state will decide whether it has merit.
If it does, the district will work on a more detailed outline for the final submittal. If approved in February, Kobza said the grant would help the district provide the necessary equipment, the part-time science teacher, and staff training necessary to implement the program.
"To make it work in science, it takes specific equipment and money," Kobza said.
How it works
If approved, the charter school would use state-distributed federal money to begin integrating biotechnology in all curricula and especially in ninth- and 10th-grade science classes. Students interesting in pursuing the topic extensively would apply for a junior- and senior-year program that would have them spend a zero-hour before school and their first and second hours working exclusively on a biotechnology curriculum.
Students applying for the charter school program would have to meet criteria like a 3.0 GPA and pass a proficiency exam.
Board member Brenda Clark worried how students in the program would be getting English and other vital subjects if they were immersed in biotechnology. But Kobza said many students would already have the necessary credits in such classes or would be seniors attending half days anyway. Moreover, for English he said the students would gain writing experiences through lab reports.
Fellow Board member Mark Chrislip worried the program would force students to make a career choice Erinn R. Barcomb
The Eudora News
A grant application for a biotechnology charter school should go before the state department of education early next month with the USD 491 Board of Education's approval of the idea Friday.
Superintendent Marty Kobza emphasized all plans for a biotechology-focused "high school within a high school" were just that -- plans --until the state made a final decision in February. The district will submit a preliminary proposal next week, after which the state will decide whether it has merit.
If it does, the district will work on a more detailed outline for the final submittal. If approved in February, Kobza said the grant would help the district provide the necessary equipment, the part-time science teacher, and staff training necessary to implement the program.
"To make it work in science, it takes specific equipment and money," Kobza said.
How it works
If approved, the charter school would use state-distributed federal money to begin integrating biotechnology in all curricula and especially in ninth- and 10th-grade science classes. Students interesting in pursuing the topic extensively would apply for a junior- and senior-year program that would have them spend a zero-hour before school and their first and second hours working exclusively on a biotechnology curriculum.
Students applying for the charter school program would have to meet criteria like a 3.0 GPA and pass a proficiency exam.
Board member Brenda Clark worried how students in the program would be getting English and other vital subjects if they were immersed in biotechnology. But Kobza said many students would already have the necessary credits in such classes or would be seniors attending half days anyway. Moreover, for English he said the students would gain writing experiences through lab reports.
Fellow Board member Mark Chrislip worried the program would force students to make a career choice too early and limit their options to explore other subjects in high school.
"Are they going to be missing some other classes they would have taken that would help them with the discovery process?" Chrislip asked.
Of the 20 or 30 Eudora High School students projected to be interested in the program, Kobza said most of them would be taking several science courses as juniors and seniors anyway. Moreover, one hour of the program would be early in the morning before other classes were offered, but Clark said she thought that might interfere with other activities like band that meet before school.
"I'm afraid we would eliminate kids who would otherwise chose to be doing both," she said.
Such details would be worked out in the next step if the state approved the preliminary proposal, Kobza said.

What it's worth
Moreover, the emphasis of the program is on the critical thinking process that transcends the subject of biotechnology. In that way, the program would allow students to pursue education or careers in other fields without having "wasted time" in biotechnology.
The charter school, he said wouldn't churn out future biotechnologists like machines. Instead, he said it would give students exposure to a lucrative and important and field with extensive possibilities in the Kansas City metropolitan area and the Kansas Highway 10 corridor, especially if Kansas University earns designation as a cancer research facility.
"It's not a bad career or nobody wantsto do it," Kobza said. "Nobody knows anything about it."
Looking at a model in Massachusetts the district studied, the program would have students working on biotechnology projects like creating plant hybrids. Paramount to the program would be the independence given students in their curriculum. For instance, students would be given guidelines for projects and experiments, but the program would place an emphasis on students designing and governing their own work.
In some ways, Kobza said the idea was to take the model the high school used with auto collision repair, health career sciences and culinary arts and transfer it to the academic realm.
"We don't teach kids how to fix a car by putting them in a classroom and having them look at a book," Kobza said.
The approach could transcend biotechnology and expand to other subjects. For instance, Kobza said the district could look at how to immerse a student interested in writing in the field. Furthermore, biotechology would be included in curricula other than science. For instance, in the current events portion of social studies classes, students could talk about the pros and cons of animal cloning, even though students in the program wouldn't be working with the topic.

Cause for concern
But such discussions sent up a red flag with some Board members, like Joe Pyle, who worried that teenagers might not have the information or sophistication to discuss such hot topics.
"Of ninth- and tenth-graders, probably half couldn't tell you who the U.S. senators are," Pyle said. "Are they ready to discuss moral and ethical questions?"
Clark said she worried how students would be able to talk about such issues without the informational background. But that's what Kobza said the biotechology curriculum would do.
Moreover, he said hot-topic discussions already took place in the high school every day, from social studies classes to lunchroom debates about dress codes. Teachers don't tell the students what to think, he said. Rather they mediate debates among students.
"I think it's important we provide a safe, non-threatening environment for those discussions," Kobza said.
Launching into such a program was a risk, but one the Board ultimately decided was worth taking.
"We can be a trendsetter," Kobza said. "We can be the ones who step out and take a risk."

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