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RIDE Evaluates Newport County STEAM Academy’s “Capacity”

(L-R) Mike Cullen, Steve Arendt, Laurie Warner, Beth Cullen at RIDE following their “capacity interview”
(L-R) Mike Cullen, Steve Arendt, Laurie Warner, Beth Cullen at RIDE following their “capacity interview”

Thank you to all those in the Portsmouth community who helped the team from Newport County STEAM Academy prepare for Wednesday’s formal “capacity interview” with RI Dept of Education (RIDE) staff.  The September 11th interview by the RIDE team was thorough and productive.  

The NCSA team focused several of their responses on two key educational needs in Newport County: (1) closing the academic achievement gaps, especially in Middletown and Newport (2) further raising the academic performance bar across all county schools, and increasing accountability, by incorporating a science / technology / engineering / arts / mathematics (STEAM) curriculum, starting with the youngest learners. 

NCSA director Beth Cullen, Harlem Village Academy founding principal Laurie Warner, NCSA president Mike Cullen, and Naval Academy Preparatory School associate dean Steve Arendt, took their seats at 10am, sitting directly across from  RIDE’s Office of Transformation & Charter Schools director, RI’s  2013 Teacher of the Year, and four RIDE staff members.   Following a quick round of introductions, the meeting moved into a rapid-fire 90 minute exchange, with the NCSA team answering a broad set of questions drawn from its application and framed by comments expressed during the two public hearings held in June and July.

Questioners were particularly interested in why the NCSA founders chose the STEAM education model, and how it would deliver an integrated, “left brain-right brain” curriculum?   The NCSA team explained the need to bring teaching methods into the 21st century, saying that current American public education methods are too subject-specific and disconnected. The STEAM curriculum’s integrated approach offers today’s students a more engaging and relevant path. 

With the focus on collaboration, building powerful relationships throughout the school community, and the active involvement of families and community partners, NCSA students will have the support elements needed to grow their passions.

Studies show that students in integrated programs demonstrate academic performance equal to, or better than, students in discipline-based programs. Students  are more engaged in school  and are less prone to attendance and behavior problems when multiple subject areas are connected to general unifying themes. 

The STEAM curriculum model, using integrated, project-based methods, succeeds in making learning more fun and meaningful. Another key benefit of the integrated approach is that there are more opportunities to differentiate learning which is especially helpful when teaching struggling, at-risk students.

Shortly, RIDE staff are expected to finish compiling their reports and will present the full application package to RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. NCSA will be notified by RIDE in two weeks whether Ms. Gist will recommend the initial approval of NCSA’s application to the RI Board of Education at its  October 7 meeting.

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