The PA STEAM Academy could transform Harrisburg and the futures of its children | PennLive Editorial

If there’s one single thing that would transform the City of Harrisburg and the lives of its residents, it’s better schools.

Harrisburg sorely needs better schools. Parents need better options to secure their children’s futures, and they need them now. That’s why the Pennsylvania STEAM Academy that plans to open its doors this fall at 1500 N. 3rd St. is such good news for the city.

The Pennsylvania STEAM Academy promises to provide a quality educational environment for 120 students, with two classrooms each of kindergarten, first grade and second grade. And preference is being given to Harrisburg residents, as it should.

Eventually, STEAM Academy will grow into a K–8 school that will help attract and keep tax-paying families in the city.

The Harrisburg School Board of Directors meets at the district’s administration offices at 2101 N. Front St. 01/24/2014 Dan Gleiter | [email protected] PENNLIVE.COMPENNLIVE.COM

Concerns over Harrisburg’s schools is one of the key reasons people with growing families leave or never move in. If they value a top-notched education for their kids, many feel they have to send them to one of the area’s private schools or move to another school district.

There’s no doubt things are changing in Harrisburg’s public school, and the new administrators are working hard to provide the kind of quality education that children receive in Cumberland County, Susquehanna or Derry Township. But even the most optimistic predictions show it will be years before we see the results of reforms now being put into place. Those are years some children will never be able to make up.

Harrisburg School District talks fall sports

Harrisburg School District Acting Superintendent Chris Celmer talks to students and parents on the steps of the district’s administration building about the prospect of fall sports on Sept. 14, 2020. Joe Hermitt | [email protected]

That’s not to denigrate the fine teachers, administrators and students who are making the most of scarce resources and at least a decade of mismanagement and neglect. But facts are facts; the 2021 U.S. News & World Ranks show Harrisburg High has a 59 percent graduation rate, well below the state average, and only 3.9 percent of its graduates are ready for college.

The report shows only 46 percent of Harrisburg High students are proficient in reading, and 39 percent are proficient in math. Those are not encouraging numbers for people who understand the importance of a quality education, one that the STEAM Academy promises to provide.

Carolyn Dumaresq, chair of the board for the Pennsylvania STEAM Academy, is a former teacher and school superintendent who served as Pennsylvania Secretary of Education. She has joined Greenworks CEO Doug Neidich and Ron Tomalis, who also served as Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, in the fight to make sure the STEAM Academy opens this fall. And it has definitely been a fight, with the Harrisburg School Board among their staunchest opponents.

STEAM Academy public hearing

Proponents of STEAM Academy Charter School’s application caucused during Harrisburg School District’s second public hearing.

But there’s no reason for Harrisburg schools to fight a quality charter school opening its doors in Midtown. If the STEAM Academy is successful, it will only bring good things to Pennsylvania’s capital city. It will provide a high-quality educational option for parents in Harrisburg, and most of all, it will help keep homeowners in the city, paying taxes that provide resources for the public school system.

Rather than oppose a promising educational option for parents in Harrisburg, school directors would do well to embrace it, partner with the STEAM Academy and benefit from the innovative educational programs it will bring to the city.

There is one problem, though. Not enough families in Harrisburg seem to be taking advantage of this opportunity. The initial cutoff date for registration was June 11, but that has been pushed back to Aug. 1 to allow for more Harrisburg residents to be admitted. Students from a 10-mile radius around Harrisburg will be allowed to apply if the spaces aren’t filled with children from the city. That should not happen.

So far, the school is about half full with a diverse mix of students coming from surrounding school districts. But this school was designed to serve Harrisburg residents first and foremost. And serve Harrisburg it should.

We urge Harrisburg parents to not miss this opportunity to give their K-2 students a solid educational start at the STEAM Academy this year. Harrisburg residents should be beating down the doors to make sure their kids get one of the coveted spots. There should be long lines of Harrisburg parents anxious to secure their hope for the future.

Dumaresq and her team are doing all they can to get the word out so that Harrisburg children have priority placement at the STEAM Academy. Now, it’s up to Harrisburg parents to make sure they don’t miss this opportunity to transform not only their city, but the futures of their children.