The first-year superintendent of Phenix City Public Schools is making a bold request to help fund his bold vision.
Seven months ago, Randy Wilkes expressed his goal of revitalizing education in grades 6-8, including take-home computer tablets for each student starting next school year and opening state-of-the-art STEM academies for them the following year.
Four months ago, he presented his plan to implement that vision, dubbed the i3 Project, standing for inquiry, innovation and impact.
Tuesday night, during the Phenix City Board of Education meeting, Wilkes unveiled the first rendering of that vision, a drawing of the STEM academy to be constructed at Phenix City Intermediate School (grades 6-7). He also released a document containing his request to help make the project a reality.
In a letter addressed to the Phenix City Finance Department, the superintendent asks the city to contribute 10 times the amount it did last year to help educate its public school students. The Phenix City Council approved a $100,000 contribution last year. This year's request is for $1 million. The school system's fiscal year 2015 total expenditures were projected in August to be $67,282,467.
The school system already has committed $3,225,000 to improve STEM education: $1.7 million to construct a free-standing STEM academy of nearly 10,000 square feet on the PCIS campus; $750,000 to give each student in grades 6-8 an iPad Air; $350,000 for the Investigations math curriculum in grades K-5; $120,000 to employ three STEM lab facilitators; $80,000 to employ an instructional technology specialist; $75,000 to employ a STEM lab coordinator; $50,000 for the Carnegie Learning math curriculum in grades 6-8; $50,000 for grades K-8 to implement MasteryConnect, a software program that allows teachers to assess core standards, monitor student performance and make reports to parents and administrators; and $50,000 for wireless access points at PCIS and South Girard.
And the superintendent's vision has expanded. He now seeks an additional $1,955,453 for: STEM lab curriculum, hardware, software and furnishings; more wireless access points; and iPads for high school students starting in fall 2016.
The vision demonstrates his administration's "commitment to excellence," Wilkes said.
"I think our request of $1 million is very much in line," he said. " This is hands-on, minds-on activity."
Board president Brad Baker praised Wilkes and his proposal.
"I appreciate everything you put into this rendering here," Baker told Wilkes. "You spent a lot of time and effort. It's what we're looking for as a board, to move our system forward. I'm excited about it, and I hope other people in the community will get excited about it and get on board with what we're trying to do. We're truly trying to do what's best for our kids."
After the meeting, Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer that the proposed STEM academy at South Girard School (grade 8) won't need a new building, just renovation of existing space. He estimated that cost to be about $300,000.
Wilkes, who acknowledged he might also pursue private donations for this project, summed up his request this way: "We need another $2 million, and I'm asking the city for $1 million - just meet us half way."
In other action, the board unanimously approved selling its surplus property at the intersection of First Street and 11th Avenue, the former site of the Phenix City Head Start Center. Stacie Collins Bethea has agreed to buy the 1.78 acres, including the vacant building, for $10,000 to develop a daycare center, according to school system documents.