Lancaster Independent School District STEM

In 2011, faced with research showing that Texas high school students rank higher for college and career readiness when they receive science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) training, Educate Texas and partner TI Foundation identified Lancaster Independent School District (LISD) as an ideal district to receive a grant to partner in implementing a district wide STEM project.

LISD, a southern-sector, suburban Dallas school district, wanted to accelerate learning outcomes, and an invitation to compete for the opportunity to implement a district wide STEM program was the perfect chance to do so. The building blocks for STEM are common in advantaged school districts, but not in LISD, where more than four-fifths of students qualify for subsidized lunches, and where math and science test scores are far below state averages.

Educate Texas adapted the T-STEM Academies Design Blueprint to serve as a basis for assessing the plans. Although details of the plans could vary, each had to address three core requirements:

  • Foundation — pure academics, professional development, building teacher capacity
  • Outreach — bringing in the community, including business, industry, families and higher education partners
  • Sustainability — a financial model that would keep STEM work going without reliance on major funding

In the five months between LISD’s selection in March 2012 and the scheduled program launch in August, LISD and Educate Texas forged a strong partnership that relied on careful planning, open communication and unfailing flexibility. With Educate Texas’ experience in launching STEM Academies came insight and best practices to support LISD, along with a variety of resources for rallying support, training teachers and developing courses.

The initial K-12 pathway to building STEM skills included general goals for each school level:

  • Grades K-5 — Building awareness of STEM academics and careers
  • Grades 6-9 — Increasing STEM exposure and engagement
  • Grades 9-12 — Creating STEM experience and articulation to prepare for college and work

As the STEM model grew, LISD supported those broad goals with specific plans and curricula for each grade, technology upgrades, and enrichment activities such as speakers, field trips, bridge programs and other experiences to bring STEM to life within the classrooms.

Over the five years of the program, Educate Texas provided coaching and assistance to support LISD and continual evaluation to ensure careful stewardship of TI Foundation funds. Transparency on the part of all involved parties was essential to discovering what works and what needs work. In this spirit, the program turned LISD into a model district for what can happen when schools, businesses and the community commit to improving education.

Over the life of the program, Educate Texas emerged with lessons and best practices to apply to school districts around the state. LISD has maintained momentum, prompting other school districts to add STEM programs and demonstrating the possibilities of taking the program to larger districts. Business and industry have noticed as well, approaching districts with offers of support for pathways leading to careers in their specific industries.

Resources

Lancaster Independent School District STEM Initiative: Transforming A District And A Community (2018)