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Jordan may get high-tech school

Students interested in biotechnology could pursue their dreams and a college degree while in high school, if a high-tech charter school takes flight in Jordan School District.

A group from the district, Salt Lake Community College and the governor's office is looking to bring a second "high-tech" charter school to the Salt Lake Valley. The school would set up shop at the West Jordan campus of the Jordan Applied Technology Center, which also is on a SLCC campus.

A similar school, funded by one of billionaire software giant Bill Gates' foundations, will open in the fall at Cottonwood High School under a partnership between Granite School District, Salt Lake City School District and the University of Utah. That school will be called the Academy for Math, Engineering & Science.

The Jordan-SLCC venture would focus on biotechnology.

"It provides a very rigorous opportunity for students," Jordan Superintendent Barry Newbold said Monday. "It's not something the faint of heart are going to want to tackle."

The proposal is in its preliminary stages. The group has conducted a feasibility study. And this week, it will ask the Jordan Board of Education and SLCC Board of Trustees for permission to forward a planning request to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives seed money for such ventures.

"We are very excited about the opportunity to be partnering with Jordan School District, and we look forward to the second step in this 16-month process," SLCC spokesman Joy Tlou said.

Charter schools offer choice within the public school system. They are tuition-free, and often have specialties, such as arts or sciences.

The high-tech charter schools, also called New Century High Schools, are part a governor's office initiative.

The Legislature has authorized up to six of them to set up shop across Utah. Iron County is working on a proposal for a math, science and engineering site; others could set up in Logan, Ogden and Utah County.

The schools will focus on rigorous coursework. They also will put students on track to earn an associate's degree with their high school diplomas, opening doors to state scholarships toward four-year degrees.

The Jordan Board of Education would sponsor the high-tech charter school. Doing so opens the doors to state and federal charter school funding, plus some $1.2 million from the Gates foundation for first-year operation and building costs, Newbold said.