STEM skills in demand at schools

Science, technology, math and engineering — the STEM subjects — were on the minds of Columbus residents when Indiana’s schools chief came to town.

Jennifer McCormick, the first-year Indiana superintendent of public instruction, visited the C4 construction engineering lab at Columbus North High School on Wednesday as part of a statewide tour to meet with parents, teachers and administrators about education issues.

A huge demand exists for potential employees with STEM training and skills, McCormick said.

About 175,000 jobs in STEM fields will go unfilled this year, McCormick said to an audience of more than 40 people, including high school students, principals and administrators.

“Go talk to local employers,” McCormick said. “They’re telling you they need employees yesterday.”

Bob Abrams, a Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board member, brought up the Indiana After School Network, a group that supports out-of-school programs across the state.

STEM education has been a major focus for the group over the past five to six years, Abrams said after the meeting.

“Learning doesn’t end at 3 o’clock,” Abrams said. “There’s a huge opportunity to continue the learning process.”

During the meeting, McCormick highlighted work being done at the state level concerning the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Signed into law in December, it replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, she said.

A state plan for ESSA is being evaluated within Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office and will be forwarded to federal officials for final review, McCormick said.

The education department website indicates that the federal law mirrors the No Child Left Behind Act and holds states accountable for high standards and maintains state accountability systems, but allows for more state input and direction.

McCormick also said Department of Education is focused on career technical education, saying state officials are concerned about being able to find enough people who are licensed to teach in particular fields such as welding.

“We’re taking a look at this in the department and saying, ‘How can we break down these artificial barriers?'” McCormick said.

McCormick was also asked about available incentives for individuals to teach in high-poverty areas.

The former Yorktown teacher, principal and local school administrator said some districts are providing financial incentives and leadership roles to individuals teaching in low-income areas.

“It’s a struggle now and it will continue to be,” McCormick said. “There’s no magic bullet. I’m not going to sugarcoat that right now.”

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com