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Plum officials weigh in on adding STEM program to alternative school

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Plum School Board President Andrew Drake wants to hear more about a proposal to implement a new curriculum at the Boyce Campus Middle College High School.

Gateway Superintendent Nina Zetty said she is in discussion with Plum School District Superintendent Timothy Glasspool and Penn Hills Superintendent Thomas Washington about starting a new curriculum at the alternative school in 2015.

Zetty said the focus would be on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

The middle college high school, also known as BCMC, is in its 17th year and operates as an alternative school for sophomores, juniors and seniors from Plum, Gateway and Penn Hills. BCMC has 104 students this year.

Zetty said while she agrees the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, or PSSA, scores at the middle college high school are falling short of the state standard, she is not willing to give up on the program.

Gateway School Board members twice over the past two years threatened to eliminate BCMC as an alternative for Gateway High School students. Zetty said the goal is to forge an agreement in which middle college students can take classes at Forbes Road Career and Technology Center in Monroeville.

She said another emphasis would be on students enrolling in college-level courses at the Community College of Allegheny County's Boyce Campus in Monroeville, where the program is located.

“Not enough of our (middle college) students are taking community-college courses while in the program,” Zetty said.

Drake said he would need to know more about the proposed curriculum before forming an opinion of the concept.

“There has to be value and not a duplication of something going on in the school district,” Drake said. “To just say it is a STEM program … I would have to see the meat behind it.”

The Plum School Board last fall rejected a plan to join the Gateway and Penn Hills school districts in forming a charter school that would have enabled students to earn an associate's degree while they received their high school diplomas.

Drake said he liked the charter school concept but that it wasn't the right fit for Plum.

“It's not what Plum needed at the time,” Drake said.

Further, Drake said the board had insufficient time to explore other options because a decision needed to be made in November in order for the Gateway School District to make application for the charter.

Plum School Board member Sal Colella also didn't think the concept fit the district.

“Our school district is unique in the east,” Plum School Board member Sal Colella said at an education committee meeting last November. “We provide an excellent education, and we have invaluable resources in our teachers. Maybe there are (benefits) for the other school districts.”

The Plum School District's cost this year for the BCMC program is $238,298.

Zetty said a plan to incorporate college-level courses and Forbes Road training will help obtain grant funding.

“When you bring those three entities together, there are foundations that will fund that,” Zetty said.

Karen Zapf and Kyle Lawson are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Karen can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or kzapf@tribweb.com. Kyle can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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