‘Game changer:’ Blount breaks ground on state’s first private STEM school
By Matthew Stewart | (email@example.com)
Ten Blount County children gathered Friday afternoon to move dirt for the state’s first private STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) school.
Business leaders, public officials and community members gathered at Clayton Homes headquarters to celebrate the Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy, which is scheduled to open July 19. The school is a joint effort between Clayton Homes and nonprofit organization Innovative Education Partnership Inc.
“We have great public schools in the region,” said Clayton Homes President and CEO Kevin Clayton. Two regional schools are ranked in the state’s top three schools, as measured by composite ACT scores.
“Parents want choices, though,” he said. “It’s real exciting to be in the state of Tennessee.”
“In Blount County, more than 2,000 school-age children are opting out of the county’s public and private schools,” said IEP board member Mary Bogert. “A lot of people are home schooling their children. We also don’t have a nonreligious private school in the area, so we’re hoping to tap that market.”
Executive Director Pat Bradley is leading ground tours and question-and-answer sessions every other Saturday. She is having one at 2 p.m. today.
More than 70 families attended one of the first three ground tours, said IEP board member Sarah Herron. Many families have expressed active interest in the new school.
Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy started its enrollment process in mid-January, she said. Staff are currently conducting parent interviews and student assessments. They want to ensure that each family shares the same mission and vision.
Staff are currently assessing 40 children, Herron said. They plan to distribute invitations within the next couple of weeks.
Bradley has started interviewing prospective faculty and staff, as well, she said. Depending on enrollment, the school will employ between 16 and 18 faculty and staff members.
Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy recently launched fundraising efforts to provide student financial aid, Herron said. However, it is not feasible for the school’s first year.
“We plan to have at least 20 percent of our students receive financial aid,” she said. “We want a diverse population, because it’s the right thing to do.”
School officials are also working to keep down the tuition rate, Herron said. Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy’s tuition is $8,900 for the first student, and $8,500 per additional student.
The school’s tuition rate is a reasonable price compared to area private schools, she said. “When you look at area private schools, we’re kind of in the middle.”
Webb School of Knoxville’s tuition, lunch and book fee for its lower school is $14,950.
Christian Academy of Knoxville’s tuition is $8,514 for the first K-5 student, $8,112 for the second K-5 student, $7,692 for the third student and $6,840 for the fourth student.
Maryville Christian School’s annual tuition is $6,900 for the first child, $6,144 for the second child, $5,520 for the third child and any additional child is free.
Clayton Homes, C2RL, Hickory Construction and Johnson Architecture Inc. are working together on the construction project, Clayton said. They have a “very aggressive schedule.”
Clayton Homes has started engineering work on the six 28-by-76 classroom units, said Controller David Jordan. The company should start constructing units in the coming weeks.
The eco-friendly, state-of-the-art buildings will be connected to an 8,590-square-foot multipurpose facility, which is being constructed by Hickory Construction, Herron said. The multipurpose facility will serve as the school’s entryway and houses offices, health clinic, workrooms, storage and a large gym with a stage.
Each classroom unit will contain two classrooms, shared boy’s and girl’s bathroom, teacher workroom and storage area, she said. Two units will serve as an art room, library, music room and science lab.
Officials plan to build a soccer field and the two-story middle and high school facility in the future.
Officials are optimistic about Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy’s future.
“We are passionate about education, and we plan to become an institute for sharing new ideas and practices,” Herron said.
“We’re creating more than a school,” said Dr. Don Bruce, who serves as IEP’s chairman. “This is a game changer.”
Clayton-Bradley STEM Academy’s mission is twofold, said Bruce, who is a research professor at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research. “We want to attract high-tech businesses to Blount County. We have a school that emphasizes STEM education, which will help the local economic scene. We’re also working to train our new work force, both locally and beyond. We want employers to look to Clayton-Bradley for their best and brightest employees.”
The school’s location is ideal for this mission, he said. “We’ll be able to appeal to a broad base of families. We want to be accessible to anyone who wants to attend the school, and we have the perfect location for business partnership. We’re linked to our partner, Clayton Homes. Not to mention, we’re near Pellissippi Place. We’re at the center of Blount County’s economic development future.”