GALVESTON — Starting next year, more students than ever will be able to participate in Ball High School’s specially designed programs focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.

Thanks to a $4 million magnet grant from the Department of Education, the Galveston Independent School District plans to expand its STEM program to include up to 250 students. The school’s program, known as the Ball Preparatory Academy, now includes 145 students at each grade level.

What’s more, the STEM program will be divided into two separate tracks: one for traditional STEM courses and a separate track for students interested health sciences. Each of the tracks will be open to 125 students.

The district also plans to create two new magnet programs focused on business and media arts. Each of those programs will also accept up to 125 students per grade level.

Some funding will be used to support and expand magnet programs at Central Middle School and Scott Collegiate Academy.

District officials say that they intend to use the grant money to create and expand the programs in a way that will allow them to survive after the grant’s funding runs out. It’s possible the grant could be renewed for another $4 million annually for the next four school years.

That means, Superintendent Larry Nichols said, the district will invest heavily in technology and equipment for the school, and will attempt to avoid creating temporary grant-funded positions that could be jeopardized if and when the grant runs out.

“The magnet grant gave us a new oven to cook a bigger pie,” Nichols said while describing the program.

While the program expansion is being promoted as a benefit for the district, some parents and supporters of the STEM program are worried.

At a recent meeting of the district’s curriculum committee, a group of parents questioned whether expanding the program to include more students would lower academic standards.

Veronica Hugger, whose son Joseph is a sophomore in the Ball Prep program, said her family chose the STEM program partly because of the more advanced classes.

“I want him to be around people that want to learn and teachers that want to teach,” Hugger said. She added that her son intends to attend college, a goal she believed most of his fellow students shared. She and other parents also lauded Ball Prep’s small size, saying it facilitated better communication among teachers, students and parents.

“The program was initiated five years ago, and it’s been a very successful,” Hugger said. “The parents are very concerned. They want to see that what is working so well for the program is maintained.”

In response to parents’ concerns, officials agreed that the Ball Prep program was working well, which is why the district wanted to expand it to more students. Officials also said academic standards should remain high.

“The rigor that is part of the STEM program now, is still going to be there,” said district spokesman Johnston Farrow.

Nichols said he believed concern about the change stemmed from the small groups that make Ball Prep popular with parents.

Currently, Ball Prep students are chosen through a voluntary application process. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of slots available, the students are chosen through a random lottery. Nichols said believed it was unlikely that students who do not want to subject themselves to the higher standards of the academy program would do so because of the additional spots.

School officials have admitted that the changes to the program have not been widely advertised, and some of the district’s trustees apologized for the lack of communication.

When the school district applied for the grant, the state had not yet passed House Bill 5, a landmark education bill that changed graduation requirements for Texas students. District officials attempted to find out whether the new state requirements would affect the funding, but the day after the award was announced the federal government began its 16-day shutdown.

Officials plan to travel to Washington, D.C. in early December to hash out the final details, though Nichols said that he was confident that the state’s requirements can be folded into the proposed magnet program without seriously changing the district’s proposal.

Other details about the program, such as how course scheduling will work and how many teachers will be assigned to the program, will be determined after the district determines how many students will actually participate.

Applications for all of Galveston’s schools of choice will be sent out in January.

Contact reporter John Wayne Ferguson at 409-683-5226 or

(9) comments

Lisa Blair

I'd love to see GISD get this kind of grant money to better serve their larger demographic of disadvantaged and non-English speaking students.

GISD Communications

Lisablair, this money will also be able to provide infrastructure to help these students as well. The STEM part is only a two-fifths of the overall grant. Part of the grant will go towards hiring positions specifically designed to help those students in need of greater assistance to graduate and be productive citizens, including many classes that deal will trades and certifications available through our partnership at Galveston College.
-GISD Communication

GISD Communications

Lisablair, this money will also be able to provide infrastructure to help these students as well. The STEM part is only a two-fifths of the overall grant. Part of the grant will go towards hiring positions specifically designed to help those students in need of greater assistance to graduate and be productive citizens, including many classes that deal will trades and certifications available through our partnership at Galveston College.
-GISD Communications

Lisa Blair

That's great to hear. Any chance of refunding the Newcomer's Program for non-english speaking students especially at the high school level? The expansion of vocational programs will benefit many.

Raymond Lewis

This is excellent foundation setting! Hopefully many of these students will utilize the Universal Access program at Galveston College and continue with the GC STEM programs

GISD Communications

Unfortunately, there are no plans to resurrect the Newcomer's Program at this time.
-GISD Communications

Lisa Blair

That's unfortunate With GISD's demographics the Newcomer's Program should be a priority.


If I were a parent of a Ball Prep student I would be worried also. You guys have a good thing going now. Often adding more to the pie causes the juices to overflow. I sure would hate to see the standards lowered by adding the wrong students.

In additon, please understand that not all students will be attending college. As in the class if 2007 a great portion of the top third went to college and did not make it. They dropped out and came back home and working in positions that do not lead to a career. While my child was in the top 10% in her class there were several of her classmates that simply did not make. I think that a vocational program needs to be started. The people we need as electricians, plumbers, carpernters, beauticians, etc. Where are they going to come from? The ones that we knew that did not make it in the college arena probably would have been better suited for a vocational career path.

As Lisa Blair stated a program that addresses the disadvantaged and the non-English speaker is greatly needed. She should know first hand. I am sure as a local business owner she knows first hand some of the problems employers face when hiring. It is hard to hire someone who does not speak English.

And we know that not all the students in the STEM program are going to go into those areas when they go to college. As for the media programs how is the going to help kids who having issues with basic math and reading. I know the grants help with funding issues but, keep in mind that America is know longer the country competing with the world as they did after the launch of Sputnik. We have slipped way down the pole in many areas.

GISD Communications

Ball Prep is a lottery - anyone can apply to be a part of the program. That said, it comes with a higher level of rigor. Those students that can handle the work, do so. Those who can not handle the work load or simply find they aren't interested in a full load of science, math and engineering classes may look to other options at Ball High for a more varied course load. That also includes just as many AP and Dual Credit offerings as Ball Prep.

We agree with you on the vocational side. But it's a misconception that we do not have enough training in these areas. The fact is we have a HUGE vocational program called Career and Technical Education in which almost every single student takes at least one course over their high school career. Many of these classes, covering 14 different career pathways - such as welding, pharmacy tech, hospitality services - have direct correlation to what will be taught at Galveston College and many provide certifications that will allow students to get a job right out of high school. This grant will go towards enhancing and expanding these programs as well.

The grant also will allow the district to hire more intervention specialists who will deal specifically with predominately non-English speakers and those who need help with core classes such as math and reading. While we do not have the Newcomers program anymore, we have instituted a system at the district that focuses on teaching English to ESL students quicker, a priority for the Superintendent here at GISD since he started here in 2010.

Lastly, not everyone will be in a magnet program. There is a multidisciplinary option that will give students the opportunity to take a wide variety of courses that fit their varied interests.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.
-GISD Communications

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