STEM magnet school pushed for Jack Abrams

An empty swing hangs on a swingset at An empty swing hangs on a swingset at the Jack Abrams School in Huntington station. (Sept. 9, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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The halls of the Jack Abrams School in Huntington Station may once again be filled with the sound of students' voices.

School Superintendent James Polansky said district officials are moving ahead with plans to turn the building into a science, technology, engineering and math -- or STEM -- magnet school. The action comes more than two years after the school board, after a controversial vote, abruptly closed Jack Abrams School for instruction due to safety concerns.

Polansky said he's pushing the reopening -- which he cautiously predicted for September -- in an effort to help engage students in subjects that will help them better compete in a global arena.

"What better place to start with than a magnet school in subject areas to bring this curricula to life," said Polansky, a former science teacher.

Five district officials recently visited a STEM magnet school in Hartford to see such a program in action.

Polansky said the Huntington model would start small. "We can establish it at grades 1, 2, 3, whatever we begin with . . . then expand it based on the success we have at those grade levels as the kids move up with the program," Polansky said.

A magnet school is operated within a school district by its school board and without attendance-zone boundaries. Polansky said if the program proves successful, the district would consider enrolling out-of-district students.

But Polansky emphasized that plans are in the preliminary stages and that while a fall opening would be desirable, it is an "overzealous" expectation.

He said the next step includes meeting with educators, parents and other stakeholders to keep the process moving and finding STEM and magnet school grants to fund the bulk of the costs.

He estimates the cost of reopening the building and starting the program at $700,000.

"We're going to do this the right way with community information being a big part of the process," Polansky said.

Following several instances of violence, the Abrams building was closed for classroom use in July 2010 after a 16-year-old girl was shot nearby. The closing fractured the community into two factions: those who wanted the building to remain open and those who didn't.

Violent crime has decreased in three of four categories since the school was closed, according to police statistics.

The school is now used for non-classroom activities. The district, which has long grappled with overcrowding issues, has considered reopening the building in the two years since it closed. But it was hamstrung by budget constraints.

In 2011, the district's long-range planning committee recommended using the building for classes in two of its final three options.

School board member Rich McGrath said the STEM magnet school idea "is an interesting concept" but wonders how it will be funded.

"It's all about the money," he said. "There are lots of worthwhile programs, but where are we going to get the money to pay for it?"

School board president Emily Rogan said she is energized about the possibility of the STEM school, but cautioned it will take time and hard work.

"If we do this right, it will be a phenomenal thing for our students and our community," she said. "It'll be something that will bring everyone in our community together."

 

SCHOOL'S TIMELINE

 

1968-69

Huntington Elementary School was built in as part of the Huntington Station Urban Renewal Project.

2008

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School is renamed the Jack Abrams Intermediate School in 2008.

APRIL 2010

Huntington school board votes 4-3 to create a sixth-grade center at Jack Abrams Intermediate School, which has been the focal point of a continuing debate over safety in the surrounding neighborhood.

JULY 6, 2010

Name is changed from Jack Abrams Intermediate School to Jack Abrams School.

JULY 2010

Sixth-grade center idea scrapped and the school is closed to classroom instruction. School is now used for district offices, meetings, team practices and professional development activities for teachers.

OCTOBER 2012

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School board announces it is considering making the school a STEM magnet school.

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