Well...unfortunately, we have learned that our district has prioritized a few programs ahead of ours for the 2017-18 school year. This was to be expected; after all, this year's bond was loaded with $265 million in "must-do" things.
Worse, we have learned that monies that were supposed to be available for the construction and roll-out of our first mobile lab will not be available in totality. Instead, we will likely have to implement a less impressive package for our initial effort.
And because of this issue, a subsequent lack of leverage for us, there is actually no reason for the district to provide us positions to run our mobile lab full-time, nor to plan future phases of the MISD CAS project.
I know that this sounds more like a "permanently cloudy skies with thunderstorms imminant" type of announcement, but hold fast, my gloomy friends!
The district has stated that it's still a priority project and the current climate does indeed favor our future efforts. As proof, the district is willing to allow us to teach a partial class load for the 2017-18 school year, providing us some of the valuable time we need. It's purely a good faith gesture on their behalf, since they truly recognize our needs and they see the promise of our project.
So, while we aren't getting the "full-time" treatment as of yet. we will be given the opportunity to move forward, with some district resources being devoted to the project. And with the district's new STEM initiative, including a middle school STEM Academy slated to open next school year, we have the opportunity to verify and demonstrate exactly how a pure STEM subject like Astronomy can be applied.
I view this as pure sunshine, indeed!
Our efforts were dealt a tough blow today, as we have learned that our grant application through the Amon Carter Foundation in Fort Worth, Texas, has been denied.
In the last calendar year, the Foundation awarded $42 million dollars in grants to education and 503(c)3 entities, representing over 200 individual charitable and educational groups. After the application process and a terrific meeting with their people, we felt strongly encouraged by them, the enthusiasm they showed. The grant, if rewarded, would have covered the entire expense of our first mobile Astronomy lab.
Alas, today, we realize that people just don't see the light, even if they claim that they do.
We will keep our heads up, but we hoped that the rewarding of the grant would service and leverage and impetus to propel our efforts forward.
If your favorite social media outlet is anything like mine, you undoubtedly got blasted yesterday by news of NASA's new discovery of 7 planets orbiting a nearby sun (if you can truly call 40 light years as "nearby").
The parent star, coined Trappist-1, is a red-dwarf. Its planets were detected with the Spitzer Space Telescope using a method known as "primary transit." Of the 7 planets found, three lie in the "habitable zone," which is the area around the orbit of a star that gives it the best opportunity to host extraterrestrial life.
Truthfully, to astronomers, the discovery of "exoplanets," or planets that orbit other stars, is commonplace with close to 3500 such discoveries to date. In fact, to date, there have been 577 multi-planet discoveries according to the NASA Exoplanet Archive (http://exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu/).
But what is truly interesting about the Trappist-1 system is that such a multi-planet discovery within a single solar system, where several have life-sustaining possibilities, is something unique. It gives rise to the notion that life might be more abundant in the universe than once thought. The thought of this is both breathtaking and mind-boggling!
For us at the CAS Initiative, it just validates what we have been saying all along, that we are living in a day when such discoveries are increasingly plentiful and exciting! Moreover, it is the type of science that is accessible to the equipment amateur astronomers currently employ; discoveries that can (and have) been made by amateurs. It has been shown repeatedly that it doesn't take a space telescope to find exoplanets.
In other words, it does not take NASA to make such a discovery!
If Mansfield ISD students were so equipped, as they would be within our curriculum programs, they could have been the talk of yesterday's news!
Despite our efforts to have this project funded (at least in part) on the upcoming MISD bond election, we have learned that there are too many other district needs. Therefore, local residents will not have an opportunity to help us out with their votes.
However, please vote! In a growing community as awesome as Mansfield, Texas, MISD needs the funds to improve, maintain, and grow our excellent schools.
As for our project, don't fret! Leadership has let us know that our project is a priority, with alternative funding sources being strongly considered. I do not feel at liberty to talk about it, since I lack specifics myself; however, we tend to trust the word of our awesome district administrators. MISD cares about innovative education and we hope to find out soon how this project will get funded!
Stay tuned for more news as it comes!
A second revision of our project proposal is now available. Other than minor format changes, there are a few major additions to the proposal, including a section on Sustainability, which is a major concern of most would-be stakeholders. We feel that this will go a long way to answer those question should they arise.
The document is presented here in PDF form:
MISD CAS Proposal Rev.1.1
We will post new updates to the Proposal document regularly, should additions and edits be required. Please follow along wtih the most recent versions of this document as our initiative keeps expanding and growing.
Last night, we had the privilege of pitching our initiative at a work session for the bond committee, who is trying to prioritize so many district needs in order to formulate this year's bond package.
Meeting in front of 40+ committee members, stakeholders of the Mansfield community, we had 15 minutes plus questions to give a brief survey and demonstration. Scott led the demonstration and I provided a demonstration whereby I remotely-controlled the Conley Observatory at the Comanche Springs Astronomy Campus near Crowell, Texas. 222 miles away, our audience got to witness the power for the instrumentation. Needless to say, we raised some eyebrows. Despite having little time to be thorough, we feel good about leaving them with a lot of questions to ask; a ton of research to do.
We left them copies of the first revision of my Project Proposal document, which you may see for yourself here:
MISD Center for Astronomical Studies Proposal, rev.1.0 (PDF)
Please feel free to pursue the 57 page document yourself!
Our hope is that we will have the opportunity to present our programs more fully, as well as addressing keys issues regarding sustainability and overall impact in another committee meeting.
Our most recent efforts for fundraising has been very positive.
In the past two weeks, we met with potential vendors about special pricing for our mobile labs vehicles and are encouraged that our first "AstroTruck" could possibly be financed via special grant funding by a local donor. Much thanks to Linda Bascik at the MISD Education Foundation for her unwavering support and excitement as she works to find us some "out of the box" solutions to our needs. So many people, like Linda, have been helping us get this Initiative off the ground, so we want to publically point out our heros and MVPs when they encourage us so greatly.
In our efforts to raise funding for the entire project, we started the approval process to get on the upcoming bond, to be voted on at the end of the school year. We are encouraged to hear that chances are favorable to having at least the first 3 project phases (as laid out here) included as a part of the overall bond package. If this carries forward as anticipated, we could see these phases started as early as the 2017-2018 school year. This would carry us through the robotic observatory construction and StarTruck mobile lab phases, something that, when implemented, would greatly impact 33,000+ student in our district.
While the public phases of the project (Phases 4 and 5) would require alternative funding sources, we are absolutely encouraged by these earlier developments. We feel that once people measure the impact of what we can do, at least in part, then funding for the whole project will come in time.
For a moment, I want to take the time to welcome you to our website. As you can see, much of this will evolve into being a very detailed, all-encompassing information spot for the Mansfield ISD Space Center Initiative.
Please forgive our construction as this will be a fluid site full of edits, additions, and features. Our goal is simply to keep people with interest well-informed of our progress in these endeavors, which is namely to impact the way that astronomy education (and indirectly STEM education) is currently done.
Please take the time to read what we post about our needs, project plans, and goals. And please visit often, as it will be important to stay up-to-date with the latest news.
As we add information and features to the page, we will post to this news/blog page.
Thanks and best regards...