Newton’s Board of Education has approved networking equipment for its new STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program, which will be housed at the old Newton High School. However, a decision on whether to raze the old high school building is still on the table.
The BOE voted 4 to 1 to approve $73,264.46 for networking equipment for its new STEM program. Gary Shattuck, director of technology and media services for the Newton County School System, made the recommendation at the board’s June 25 meeting.
According to Newton College and Career Academy Principal James Woodward, the new STEM program, also known as the STEM Institute, will have 54 rising ninth-grade students, who will be exposed to rigorous academic and real- world industry courses taught by experts in their fields.
At the meeting, Shattuck said the STEM program would be located in the ninth-grade wing of the old Newton High School. He said that the curriculum and instruction staff had planned to use the pre-existing network equipment at the old Newton High to provide technology infrastructure for the STEM program, but the equipment was not adequate.
Infinity Network Solutions, out of Macon, will provide the new equipment.
However, before approving the new equipment, BOE member Eddie Johnson voiced his concerns about the STEM program being placed in the old high school since it remains unclear whether the building will ultimately be demolished. Johnson added that he was under the impression the new STEM program would be housed in the Newton College and Career Academy.
“Are we interfering with the razing of the (old) school by placing this program there? Because there has been no decision, as I know of, as to what to do with it,” Johnson said.
Shattuck said the STEM initiative will be connected to the Career Academy, but there isn’t enough space in the career academy to accommodate the number of classes the program will offer. He added that the ninth-grade wing of the old Newton High is adjacent to the Career Academy and would be able to handle the program in its initial stages.
NCSS former superintendent Gary Mathews said Dennis Carpenter, NCSS’s former deputy superintendent of operations, previously informed the BOE that money for razing Newton High School was set aside in the budget, but the decision to do so was up to the board.
As for the STEM program, Mathews said, “The natural place would be adjacent to NCCA, because of all of the expertise that resides there. I see no reason why the rest of the building can’t be razed because of the continued existence of that one wing.”
Mathews recommended that the board leave the ninth-grade wing as is for the initiation of the STEM program and also leave the old NHS auditorium for the use of the Newton County Arts Association. He did not have a recommendation on what to do with the schools’ gymnasium.
Johnson said the board needed proper planning before approving the STEM initiative.
“Before we nickel and dime on this building, we need some fundamental planning as to what the total structure will look like,” Johnson said. “To go spending this money is a waste of taxpayer dollars if it infringes on a decision that can be made later on. And I understand, I am for the STEM program, but we have not done the proper planning here in my view.”
BOE Chair Abigail Coggin said making a decision on razing the old high school was not on the June 25 agenda, but said she was fine with putting it on the agenda for a future meeting. However, she did agree with Johnson’s statements.
“You are absolutely right; there has not been a formal decision made on the razing of Newton High, just like Sharp has been sitting empty for several years, and there has not been a decision there,” Coggin said. “If we are going to start razing buildings and these schools, we need to do it with all of the other schools sitting empty, too.”
Coggin then asked for a motion to approve the monies for the STEM program equipment. BOE member Jeff Meadors made a motion to approve purchasing networking equipment for the program, with a second from board member Shakila Henderson-Baker.
The motion was approved 4 to 1, with Johnson opposing.
Funds to cover the purchase will come from the technology department’s fiscal year 2013-14 capital projects allotment. The networking equipment purchase would be tied to the existing contract for networking equipment and cabling that the school system has in place for the new high school, which was approved by the BOE in August 2012.