The Sad Saga Of Chicago's NASA Lab

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First it was at Fenger (locked up for years, as I recall).  Then it was shuttered, revived and moved to Marine Math and Science.'s nowhere.  This is the sad saga of the CPS NASA lab.  Not a big deal in and of itself, but yet another example of bureaucratic confusion, cost-cutting, and missed opportunities. Or should it just be left to die?  You be the judge.  Read below for one perspective, and then weigh in with yours.  What went wrong?  What should happen now?  What are the lessons from this debacle? 

I've been following your District 299 blog for several
years and while I haven't broke this story to the
news media yet I know how much you love CPS
and their handling of education for our young people.
For the last five years I have been the director of
a very unique program that is a partnership between
NASA and CPS called SEMAA (Science, Engineering,
Mathematics and Aerospace Academy).  We have
been across very rocky roads since 2006 as it
appears there are no dedicated administrators that
understand the value of a NASA STEM program
that is free and serves all the students of the city.
We have been in the process of re-opening the
Chicago site since 2007 and we finally finished
upgrades in April of 2009.  Then weird rumblings
in August from my principal at Marine Math &
Science Academy where the Aeronautics Education
Laboratory is hosted that downtown was going to
close the program had me totally confused.
We have spent two years and hundreds of
thousands of dollars to get the AEL back up
and in the blink of an eye without communication
to me nor NASA some unnamed person or
persons at the district are coming in three
weeks to remove all equipment and close
the lab.  With the new push to improve 
math and science programs across the
nation and with President Obama's new
focus on STEM education this move could
not be more untimely.
What it shows is that the district has no idea
of what it has as when I called Huberman's office
to find out the details of why the lab was closing
they had no knowledge of anything.  I know
that it's not district but school that wants the
space and it is unfortunate that CPS allows
principals to make bad decisions that affect
the hundreds of thousands of children,
parents and community residents that
so badly need to improve math, science,
and technology and engineering skills.
NASA closed the SEMAA program and
washed its hands of CPS in 2006.  It was only
through my persistence and dedication and a
letter of support from then CEO Duncan that
they happily agreed to allow us to move the
lab from Fenger to Marine Math & Science Academy.
Now I have egg all over my face with NASA but
the good thing is the AEL and the SEMAA program
will have no future administrative ties with the
The program will re-emerge at an institution that
has the vision and the understanding of the
importance of building STEM skills in our students.
As I was told by a person in the Office of the Board
President, the district has so many pressing problems
that a NASA program is not that high on priorities.
So true, our children need to learn how to read
first, learn math, so they can count money and dodge
bullets by counting to six.
This is the 10th anniversary of the Aeronautics Education
Laboratory and it's historical significance to African American
aviators and our ability to inspire our young people to dream
big and reach for the sky has been the foundation of our
site's vision and mission.  The closing of the AEL is perfect
timing for media coverage showcasing the visionless bureaucrats at
CPS and how children don't come first.
You can learn more about NASA SEMMA here
and visit our Facebook page at  
My goal is to have all my parents, corporate, university, and community partners bombard the 5th floor with
calls demanding answers to why a program of this caliber is totally disregarded by CPS.  
Thanks for taking the time to read this.


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  • It seems all is well again in the world of the NASA Lab and CPS. Well sort of. After
    much effort, and I must thank you for publishing the news as well as all the parents,
    students, and our partners who have called and emailed the 5th floor expressing
    concerns and in some cases anger over the decision to close the AEL at Marine
    Math & Science Academy. After talking to Mr. Huberman's office, downtown is
    going to assist site administration in moving to a new school. This will mean the
    plans to shut the lab completely down and disburse the equipment as planned
    by the Area 26 CAO will not happen. The AEL will move to a new location to
    continue to provide aviation, aerospace, physics, astronomy, space science, and
    other STEM activities and programs to the children, parents, and teachers of
    Chicago. While there is always controversy over academics, budgets, staffing, safety
    of students, test scores, etc. in CPS this is one issue that Mr. Huberman and
    his staff has gotten right. It is unfortunate that after spending all this time and
    money on the lab we're once again packing up. But better to pack up and go
    where the lab is valued and wanted than to just give up on the students and say,
    "Well it was just a lab that wasn't being used anyway so it won't be missed."
    What isn't understood or must have been forgotten is that until all upgrades
    were completed we technically couldn't use the facility or claim any affiliation
    to NASA. This was agreed upon by Area 26 CAO and MMSA principal to
    NASA in 2007. One of the biggest challenges we've had in getting district
    support since Vallas left and our Central Office Liaison retired in 2004 is meeting
    with officers and administrators to assist them in understanding the scope of the lab
    and the program and how all of the components, including the curriculum
    can best fit in CPS's overall science, math and engineering strategies.

    So now it's finding a school with adequate space and a principal that
    sees the AEL as an asset to their students, parents, and the entire
    Chicago community. If there is any interest from the CPS community
    they are welcome to email me at We are
    also looking for schools interested in hosting satellite locations for
    after school programming in the future.

    As we prepare to move, and as long as the lab is still intact at MMSA,
    we will continue with our planned year long celebration of the ten year anniversary
    of the historic Willa Brown - Harold Hurd AEL. I encourage your readers to become fans of the AEL on Facebook to stay updated with programming and events and to contact us at MMSA (773) 534-7818 for the time being if they would like to get involved or volunteer for our flight, aeronautics, robotics, or girls engineering outreach programs.

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