Funding lag delays Fort Worth district's biomedical academy

FORT WORTH -- A biomedical high school that the Fort Worth district wanted to launch in August has been delayed because of funding.

The Texas Academy of Biomedical Sciences at the University of North Texas Health Science Center did not receive a crucial math and science grant from the state.

"Unfortunately, we were not awarded the grant, but that has allowed us to back up and take more time to do planning" and work to secure funding, said Chuck Boyd, assistant superintendent for secondary school leadership. "We can go ahead and start with a middle school prep program that will allow us to build the program up from there."

A biomedical sciences preparatory program will be offered to eighth-graders next school year at Stripling Middle School. Students will take advanced math and science courses and a required monthlong summer bridge program at the health science center. Applications are due by April 19.

The school district has a medical professions special-interest program at North Side High School and one for health science and hospital administration at Trimble Tech High School. Officials said the academy program would differ in that it would allow students to earn college credit and would focus on biomedical fields not concentrated on at North Side or Tech.

Officials said they are exploring funding options for the academy and other programs as officials work to revamp the district's high schools.

Superintendent Melody Johnson has said she wants to make each campus a school of choice by offering dynamic career-focused programs.

Administrators have worked for more than a year to revitalize the career and technical offerings, which keep students' interests and have value in job markets.

This year, for example, the district launched an Academy for Petroleum, Engineering and Technology at Southwest High School that officials said would be particularly relevant in this area, given natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale.

The program delves into the science and business aspects of the petroleum industry and was created with the help of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which has helped set up similar academies in the Houston area.

At the school board's March 23 meeting, officials are expected to unveil two to four career or technical programs for each of the 13 high schools, chief academic officer Michael Sorum said. "We want our high schools to be vibrant places for kids and have good choices in their neighborhood school as well as across town," Sorum said.

While funding is an issue now for the biomedical sciences academy, Sorum said he does not expect problems in the future. Most of the new programs would be covered by a realignment of focus and resources, he said.

During her State of the District address, Johnson told business leaders that she wanted to develop a nonprofit education foundation to help the district raise money for efforts such as high school redesign. She noted that Fort Worth is one of the largest area districts without such a foundation.

EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-390-7700