Science Charter School May Serve Critical Need

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If we don’t pay attention — right now — very closely — we’re gonna blow it. That’s why we hope that lots of Payson parents get involved in the effort to launch a charter school that will specialize in science and technology.

A few dozen parents have teamed up with the Payson Unified School District to decide whether to try to start what amounts to a magnet school for students interested in science and technology — future doctors, engineers and programmers.

The group hopes to take advantage of a national movement dedicated to revitalizing science education. The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) program provides funding for innovative programs, with a special interest in rural areas.

The school district hopes to also take advantage of state laws that allow a district to set up a charter school.

The effort exudes a certain disheartening irony. Arizona has led the nation in support for charter schools even as it has starved its public schools.

Charter school backers hope the competition will improve public schools. As a result, the Legislature has given charter schools the freedom to innovate that maddening layers of mandates and regulations has denied public schools.

It’s not all that hard to build a great school. All you need is a bright, creative, experienced principal with power to run the school.

Then you need great teachers not buried under an unmanageable number of students. That is the foundation on which you must build. All the rest is just tinsel on the eves, sparkling in the wind.

A science-based charter school might follow just such a model, since it could operate with much more freedom to embrace innovative programs, reward great teachers and take advantage of the expertise of people without all the formal education credentials. That could include faculty at a hoped-for ASU campus in town, which would have a focus on green technologies and alternative energy.

As a country we need to do a better job of involving as many students as possible in math, physics, and all of the sciences.

The United States has been the leader in innovation since before the industrial revolution. Our leadership continues today. As a country of achievers and international leaders we need to make sure we help our youth continue to be the top scientists, doctors and economists in a complicated world.

We need to make sure there is no loss of interest in these fields that results in a shift toward second-class status. In one international survey, U.S. students ranked 29th among 57 nations in their mastery of science. Moreover, a national survey of science and math education put Arizona students at the bottom of the heap nationally.

There are some students and adults who don’t understand the most fundamental aspects of scientific thought. As a result, they cannot pursue the careers of the future or even make wise choices as voters and as consumers.

We might be squandering the hard work of generations, just as the rest of the world resolves to overtake us. We will pay dearly for this foolish indifference to the education of the next generation.

So we hope that you will contact Superintendent Casey O’Brien’s office or Laurel Wala or some other member of the Payson Area Association for the Gifted to help research the possibilities.

We haven’t blown it yet — but time is slipping away.

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