STEAM Academy Concept
A team from the Fayette County Public Schools (FCPS), including their then newly appointed superintendent Tom Shelton, participated in the first cohort of the Next Generation Leadership Academy in 2010. As part of that experience, UK Next Gen personnel arranged visits to see alternative school models that were functioning out of state. The FCPS personnel went on several of these visits, but one school in particular caught their attention in Columbus, Ohio on the campus of Ohio State University called Metro Early College High School. Having witnessed a high school that provided an alternative structural model for learning, a smoother transition to college, and data that showed levels of success not currently present in FCPS, an internal process within FCPS began to consider the viability of a similar school in Lexington.
As a result of those conversations, FCPS convened a design team in partnership with the UK College of Education. As part of that work, the design team submitted and received a Next Generation Learning Challenges Breakthrough Models in Education planning grant through Educause. This proposal focused on developing a new academic program with a main goal to “ensure that students will graduate college and career ready, and experienced” with an enrollment preference for traditionally underserved students in Fayette County. The design team identified an implementation target for the STEAM Academy beginning with the 2013-14 school year. The founding director, Tina Stevenson, was hired in the late spring of 2013 and quickly assembled an inaugural staff. The program, housed in the former Johnson Elementary School at 123 E. Sixth St., launched in August 2013 with 150 initial enrollments, seven teachers, and several administrative staffers.
Initial decisions were made during this early period that continue to shape STEAM today. These include:
- STEAM would enroll 600 students at full capacity and would seek to admit classes of 150 students each year.
- Students would be drawn from across Fayette County instead of a specific geographic feeder zone.
- Student admissions would reflect the racial and economic diversity of the city of Lexington but otherwise would be a pure lottery system.
- STEAM would function as a “program” and not a “school” under existing Kentucky legal definitions. As such STEAM would have flexibility on issues from membership of the site based decision-making council to whether to offer athletic programs.
- STEAM, as a program, would have a “director” and not a “principal.”
- STEAM would use the elementary school schedule, permitting students to return to their home high schools for athletics and other extracurricular activities.
STEAM would not only integrate the STEM fields but would include the integration of the Arts across the curriculum. As part of the Next Generation Learning Challenge support, the grant required the attainment of matching funds at the local level. Thus, local corporations such as Lexmark, Toyota, and others were supported STEAM with required matching funds.
A permanent home
The Fayette County Board of Education voted in December 2017 to purchase the former Imani Baptist Church at 1555 Georgetown Rd. as a permanent home for STEAM Academy.
In August 2019, demolition and extensive renovations began on the property. Follow the progress here:
The district expects about 600 students from the STEAM Academy and some 80 in the unrelated and 2018-launched Success Academy to move into the building, tentatively in January 2021.