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STEM enrollment likely to remain where it is

March 12, 2014

Wauwatosa Schools Superintendent Phil Ertl estimates enrollment at the Wauwatosa STEM Elementary School at 140 students for next year, and said he doesn't foresee attendance growing beyond that.

Similarly, the Longfellow and Whitman middle school Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs are not likely to grow in the future, he said. Each school has between 80 and 90 students in its STEM programs.

The STEM offerings in the Wauwatosa schools regularly attract more students than can be accepted. At WSTEM, 144 students applied for 44 openings at the beginning of this school year, and one parent, frustrated that her child wasn't accepted to the Longfellow STEM program, said 30 students were accepted, and 50 didn't get in.

Where they want to be

Ertl said this week that the district uses a random drawing to determine who gets a place in the STEM programs. STEM programming emphasizes science, technology, engineering and math.

"We went into this starting out with the intention of having one section per grade level, and I don't anticipate that that will be getting bigger," Ertl said, referring to the middle school programs. "When it comes to STEM, the idea is that all students get it throughout the regular curriculum, and we continue to work toward that."

"It's weaved in throughout the curriculum," he said. "And there's even a sixth-grade class, options in seventh grade, even at the high school there's opportunities for a lot of STEM-related course work."

Half and half

The WSTEM school, at the elementary level, is housed in the Wilson Elementary School building.

"We started, I believe, seven years ago, and it was intended to get exactly where we'll be next year, where half the school is STEM — WSTEM — and the other half is Wilson. That's exactly where we wanted to be with it."

Ertl said not everyone is enamoured with STEM education.

"There's two sides to it, too, and you would have to look at the argument against it. While I've always been supportive of programs like this, there's people that feel pretty strongly that those shouldn't exist, because it becomes exclusive, then, the haves and have-nots."

Resources and demand

Better to have too many students applying than too few, he said.

"You want to have people that want to be in the program. If you didn't have more applications than slots available, that might mean we have a problem with the program."

And, Ertl said, he doesn't want to be in a position of having overcommitted to any specific program.

It takes resources to train a STEM teacher.

"It's teaching in different ways. It's no different than any different type of programming, different type of teaching methodologies. It's really about staff development and making sure people understand what it is. "

It also requires different certifications for teachers, he said.

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