Sunday, March 9, 2014
By DANIEL AMORY
PORTLAND - I am a liberal Democrat and proud of it. I have supported Democrats and progressive causes for years and am an old friend of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. I count myself a member of Maine's progressive coalition.
I am also a strong supporter of Baxter Academy, the STEM school that will open soon in Portland, and have provided it with substantial funding. Why?
If there is one thing we can all agree upon, it's the need for better science, technology, engineering and math education here in Maine and across the country. Employers demand it, students and parents want it, politicians of all stripes support it.
We owe it to our kids to give them increased access to high-quality STEM education, for their sake and for the future of our state and country. One of my sons had a significant learning disability, and I learned through him that kids learn differently: We need to accommodate different learning styles, including project-based problem solving.
All Baxter students will benefit from training in the design cycle and problem-solving techniques, in project management and teamwork. That, in a nutshell, is what Baxter is all about.
But Baxter, which should be a project that unites rather than divides, has instead been the subject of a feeding frenzy. Somehow in these fractious times, we must find common ground on which we all -- liberals, conservatives, independents, progressives, libertarians -- can agree, and I thought that establishing a high-quality STEM school would be a good candidate.
Apparently, I was wrong. So let's step back and ask the basic questions: Is there a strong need for improved STEM education in southern Maine? If there is, will Baxter help fill that need? Applying a fair cost-benefit analysis, does the cost to the community outweigh Baxter's benefit?
To me the answers are clear: The need for better STEM education is self-evident, and Baxter will provide an innovative STEM curriculum emphasizing real-world problem-solving.
Baxter's students are drawn from 35 communities throughout coastal and southern Maine, so its fiscal impact will not be disproportionately borne by individual school systems. Baxter will also be a resource for public schools, helping spark innovation in their STEM programs.
• To the Republicans: If you believe in charter schools, school choice and STEM education, help fund Baxter's startup and make Baxter a success. Of equal importance: Don't politicize Baxter. It's a STEM school, not a campaign stop.
• To my friends the Democrats: When Baxter opens in September it will be a fact on the ground, a high-quality STEM school providing an educational opportunity found nowhere else in southern Maine. Let's tone down the rhetoric, move on and focus on the state's many real needs.
• Mayor Michael Brennan, I honor you for your years of effective leadership in the Legislature.
Only nine students from Portland are enrolled in Baxter, and their cost to the Portland school system will be around $81,000. That's a tiny fraction of Portland's $96 million school budget and won't break the bank.
If we work together, Portland's public school students can benefit from Baxter's specialized programs and capabilities. Students from Freeport will come to Baxter for innovative projects -- why not from Portland High and Deering?
• Sen. Justin Alfond, I am grateful for your strong leadership in Augusta. Let's work across the aisle to find a stable funding source for Maine's five charter schools that does not unfairly impact individual school systems. Five charter schools across the state are not an existential challenge to anyone, and their funding is a solvable problem.
You supported the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, which has a similar STEM mission but is highly selective; why not Baxter, which is required to accept all applicants?
• To the Press Herald: In the July 30 article on Baxter ("Baxter school criticized for luncheon with political group"), you paraphrased a national education scholar who warned that private money going to public schools can be "problematic," whether it goes to traditional or charter schools. The state provides no money for startup or capital costs, so new charter schools are necessarily dependent on private funding.
The paper has appropriately praised the business community's support for technical education in Portland schools, but this story implies that my support for STEM education is not equally worthy. The paper's reporting on Baxter is frankly not up to its usual standard.
In any event, I have asked for nothing in return for my support -- except for the pleasure of attending Baxter's first graduation.
Daniel Amory is a resident of Portland.