East Hampton School District Boosts Science, Engineering Curriculum, Seeks Community Feedback

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East Hampton School District plans to bolster its Science Technology Engineering Mathematics programs as a way to help students prepare for college and land better jobs.

As budget season and the impending pressure of the state tax cap loom, the School Board, at a meeting on Tuesday night, November 18, sought feedback on the educational STEM programs, giving parents and community members a glimpse at where, exactly, their tax dollars are headed.

Assistant Superintendent Bob Tymann said that by focusing more on subjects like coding or robotics at a young age and throughout high school, students will graduate with not only more knowledge and experience but will be better prepared for college and the professional world.

“The focus of classes used to be what a teacher knew and how students could regurgitate it,” Dr. Tymann said, explaining that the method of memorization is typically found in science classes specifically, while subjects like art and music offer students more in-depth and thorough understanding of a subject, rather than strictly memorization. The district has been working with Computer Associates, an Islandia-based information technology company, to revamp the school district’s curriculum.

Dr. Tymann said he hopes the district can purchase Bee Bots, a toy for kindergarten-age students that operates like a robot, where students are tasked with pressing different buttons that tell the toy where and how to move. “Playing with it is the beginning of problem solving and computer programming, and understanding that if you give different commands, it will do different things,” he said.

Also at the elementary school, teachers are working toward organizing a junior Lego League in conjunction with Project Most for the upper grades. Fourth-graders will begin to use a basic-level computer program called Scratch for coding.

At the middle school level, an additional level of coding class will be implemented, Dr. Tymann said. It offers students two levels of coding classes at the middle school, and will build upon that knowledge with multiple levels of coding at the high school.

“But there’s more than one entry point,” Board Member Jackie Lowey said, explaining that if a student does not take the classes in middle school, they aren’t barred from joining at the high school level.

The high school will also see its first robotics team this year, Dr. Tymann said. In years past, East Hampton students have gone to Pierson to take part in a collaborative team. Last year, the joint team placed second in a regional competition and advanced to national competition, where team members placed 49th out of 100 in their division.

But one of the most important aspects of shifting focus to science programs, said Dr. Tymann, is ensuring that “everyone gets exposed to all possibilities.”

“When you look at STEM jobs and the percentage of women in the job market, 48 percent of women are in the workforce, and only 24 percent of women go into STEM jobs,” he said. “That’s a big disparity. That’s a problem with how we teach and what society expects out of the genders. And that has to change.”

The presentation, well-attended and well-received by parents, ended with a question-and-answer session, where the inevitable subject of cost was discussed. “How do you do that in the confines of a budget?” asked East Hampton resident and parent Mary McCarthy. “Is this replacing electives? Basically, what is going away so we can have this?”

The answer? Absolutely nothing, according to Dr. Tymann. “This is all by being more efficient with our staffing so we can do this,” he said. “We freed up money so we can do this, and we’ll continue to try and do that.”

The district pierced the state’s 1.46-percent cap on tax levy increases last year with a 2.43-percent increase. The budget was approved by district voters, with 73 percent supporting, well over the necessary 60 percent. But being strapped with the cap, said Mr. Burns, is part of the reason for the presentation.

“We were one of five districts that overrode the cap, and that’s part of the reason for this,” he said. “We need to hear from the community … We’ve already cut the pens and pencils. We don’t even have proper oboes for our kids to play on.”

When configuring the budget for the 2015-16 school year, the district is looking at a possible 1.7 percent Consumer Price Index, allowing for roughly a $600,000 addition to the tax levy for this year’s budget of $65,075,748.

The board will administer its first draft of next year’s budget at its January 21 meeting.

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