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By Beka Compton
The Times 

STEM program cut at Waitsburg Elementary, raising questions about levy item

Waitsburg School District will not offer K-5 STEM classes for the foreseeable future

 

August 13, 2020

Courtesy Photo

Pam Beasley

WAITSBURG-Many parents within the Waitsburg School District questioned a levy line item, STEM/Fine Arts, following the resignation of the STEM teacher Pam Beasley.

At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, music teacher Shelby Pomerinke resigned. It was decided to postpone hiring a music teacher until the next school year, and the board opted to offer a one-year, K-5 STEM program, taught by Beasley.

A former kindergarten teacher, Beasley has always been an advocate for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program. In recent years, she has returned to school to complete her Ph.D. in Transformational Leadership, with a focus on early learning and STEM. She is currently working on her dissertation, which explores the effects of STEM programs throughout a child's life.

Beasley said that she knew, going into the school year, that the STEM program was temporary, but it was well-received by the kids and parents. She was hopeful that a sustainable agreement could be reached allowing Beasley to continue teaching.

"I knew that budgets would be tight with COVID-19, and I also knew that I needed some time to do research for my dissertation," Beasley said. "So, I offered to teach part-time Spanish and asked about doing STEM in the mornings for the district."

Beasley said she offered to continue teaching the program for free, but the proposal was rejected due to union concerns. She said that she offered to write a grant to fund the program, which the board also turned down. She finally offered to assist in science classrooms in the district and was again told no.

Beasley did not feel that the positions she was offered were a good fit for her, and she resigned in May. Her resignation was accepted by the school board at the June meeting.

Many of the materials for the elementary STEM program were funded by the Ken Beasley Science and Technology for Kids Foundation, which honors Beasley's late husband and his love for science and technology.

Waitsburg School District Superintendent Mark Pickel said the STEM/ Fine Arts line included in the levy was intended to fund the middle school robotics course, taught by Mr. Starring, and the high school forensics course, taught by Mr. Kiefel. It was not meant to sustain the STEM program that Beasley had been teaching.

The school district anticipates hiring a music teacher, with the timeline contingent on the pandemic status. Pickel hopes that the music program will return in the 2020-21 school year. Many of the candidates the district originally considered before the pandemic curtailed hiring, expressed interest in re-interviewing when the position is again open. The district will also add an art class, taught by Ms. Ball.

"We had to come up with a special (class) that would balance out P.E, to give teachers their planning time," Pickel said. "We thought we could generate some interest with something STEM-related, but it was never meant to be a sustained program. The intent was to hire a new music teacher this year."

The STEM funds raised through the levy, which goes into effect in 2021, will support the high school and middle school forensics and robotics materials, project kits, and ongoing training for both Kiefel and Starring.

Superintendent Pickel said that there is a lengthy process the school must go through in order to adopt a sustainable STEM program, and, unfortunately, the school is not in a position to take these steps amid the pandemic. The school would have to explore staffing options and pursue professional development, as well as develop a curriculum. The curriculum would have to be presented to, and approved by, the parents within the district, something Pickel felt would be extremely difficult, as all meetings are still remote.

Moving forward, Beasley said she hopes to put a community STEM program together when the coronavirus pandemic is over and social distancing guidelines are relaxed. Her goal is a weekday evening class, and a Saturday family class.

"My heart and soul are in Waitsburg," Beasley said. "It's hard to think about leaving."

Parents who are concerned about the STEM program, or have further levy questions, are encouraged to speak to the school board during the public comment time of regular meetings. Meetings are always on the third Thursday of the month. Meeting login information can be found at http://www.waitsburgsd.org.

 

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