County leaders are eyeing unused space at local colleges for a new career and technical education high school.
Early this year, county government and Montgomery County Public Schools officials divulged a plan for a new school focused on STEM and Career and Technical Education in the heart of downtown Silver Spring. The idea was to use empty office space — a warehouse left vacant by Discovery Inc.’s departure from the county — for the school.
At 8045 Kennett St., the three-story building is within walking distance of public transit, technology businesses and the Montgomery College campus.
Officials previously asked Bethesda Beat to not identify the building they were considering as they negotiated possible lease agreements.
The plan didn’t pan out, so the location can be revealed, but all is not lost, County Council Member Hans Riemer said.
“When the building we were going for slipped away, the momentum we had built behind the concept continued, so the conversations shifted to finding a new approach,” Riemer said in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. “This is a chance to do something different, to create a high school academy program that is closely linked to the future needs of the workforce.”
Riemer has spearheaded the effort from the beginning, and this week said county leaders are now discussing collocating the new school with The Universities at Shady Grove or Montgomery College’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus. (Steve Hull, the editor-in-chief and publisher of Bethesda Magazine and Bethesda Beat, is a member of the Board of Advisors of The Universities at Shady Grove.)
The idea is in its infancy, county officials said, so details like enrollment, staffing and programs have not been finalized.
It’s also too early to speculate about how much the project would cost, although Riemer said he expects the price to be “minimal” because students would use already constructed space.
In the Silver Spring office building, county officials envisioned an enrollment of about 800 students offering technology, media, research and health-oriented programs.
County Executive Marc Elrich had pledged his support for the project, highlighting the importance of creating post-high school opportunities for county graduates.
All nine County Council members signed on to a letter sent on Thursday to Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College and The Universities at Shady Grove officials, asking the group to develop a vision and identify what “resources are necessary” to make it a reality.
The letter focuses heavily on the Montgomery College campus, highlighting its performing arts space, nursing program, and STEM building currently under construction.
The Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus is close to research companies, nonprofits, government agencies and public transit, making it a prime location for a career and technology program, the letter says.
“The goal for this new educational hub should be to help fill an opportunity gap,” the letter says. “In contrast to highly selective STEM-focused schools that target students who are already identified as gifted and talented in STEM, an MCPS STEM Academy could aim to develop new sources of STEM talent, particularly among underrepresented students.”
A similar model could be explored at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus or at USG, according to the letter.
Sanjay Rai, senior vice president of academic affairs at Montgomery College, said in a statement that school officials are excited about the possibility.
“Early and focused attention to STEM programs, experiential learning opportunities, and support centers are key for producing a diverse STEM workforce for our economy,” Rai wrote. “Collaborative efforts like this are critically important.”
Spokespeople for USG and MCPS did not immediately respond to requests seeking comment.
The vision, Riemer said, is to include space for the Bethesda-based Kid International Discovery, or KID, Museum.
KID Museum, for children, works closely with the school system and provides hands-on learning opportunities incorporating art, culture and science, technology, education and math skills. The museum has been looking for more than a year for a new location with more space to accommodate its programs.
The school system and KID Museum have built a partnership over the past four years to promote STEM classes at elementary and middle schools, emphasizing the importance of making programs accessible to low-income and minority students.
In its current location at the Davis Library on Democracy Boulevard in Bethesda, the museum is limited to about 7,500 square feet of leased space.
KID Museum is looking for about 50,000 square feet of space, which would allow the organization to increase the number of students it serves annually from 55,000 to 250,000, according to a county government budget document.
A spokeswoman for the museum said its leaders are “exploring a range of options” and a new location has not been finalized.
Riemer said the idea of collocating a high school with Montgomery College or USG would help address crowding in area schools (100 of the 208 schools in MCPS are over capacity, according to MCPS), and would help “ensure all kids have a chance to be prepared for the jobs of the future.”
“With the partnership with KID, there’s a continuum where we’re bringing kids in at the youngest age, bringing them through the high school programs and into college, giving them access to employers, certification and degrees,” Riemer said.
County officials have been pushing for expanding technology-focused programs in recent years. Last year, MCPS opened the rebuilt Thomas Edison High School of Technology and has begun construction on its next career education hub in Seneca Valley High School.
Since taking over as superintendent in 2016, Smith has devoted himself to “changing the conversation,” as he put it, about what comes after high school. On several occasions, Smith has publicly highlighted the need to recognize that not all students will attend a traditional four-year college after graduation and to provide access to career-prep courses.
With an estimated 166,000 students, MCPS is the largest school district in the state.
“This is about working together to reinvent STEM education and create new opportunities that are nontraditional, capitalizing on the partnerships we can make,” Riemer said.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org