While STEM has become a popular buzzword in education, Tennessee is seeking to recognize schools that are exemplary in teaching students about science, technology, engineering, and math.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen on Tuesday announced the first crop of 15 schools to earn the state’s new STEM School Designation.

That means they’ve completed her department’s review process for providing meaningful STEM-based instruction anchored by the state’s academic standards in math and science.

The achievement by the schools — 14 public and one private — represent an early milestone under Tennessee’s new strategic plan for STEM education, developed to equip students for the South’s fifth fastest-growing cluster of jobs.

The newly designated schools are:

  • Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, Hamilton County Department of Education
  • D-B EXCEL, Kingsport City Schools
  • Dr. William Burrus Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
  • Jack Anderson Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
  • Jackson Christian Elementary School, Jackson
  • L&N STEM Academy, Knox County Schools
  • Maxine Smith STEAM Academy, Shelby County Schools
  • Midway Elementary School, Roane County Schools
  • Moore Magnet Elementary School, Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools
  • Oakmont Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
  • Overall Creek Elementary School, Murfreesboro City Schools
  • Prescott South Elementary School, Putnam County Schools
  • STEM School Chattanooga, Hamilton County Department of Education
  • Union Elementary School, Sumner County Schools
  • Whitehaven Elementary School, Shelby County Schools

STEM aims to prepare students for the 21st-century economy and, at its heart, is about developing problem-solving skills. In Tennessee, the instruction is aligned with new math standards that reached classrooms last fall, with an eye toward new science standards that will replace 10-year-old benchmarks this fall.

The new designation allows the state to provide a blueprint for schools to create a culture around STEM, give students hands-on learning opportunities, and provide educators with cutting-edge professional development, among other things.

Schools achieving this status are to serve as a model for other schools in the state.

The designation is one outgrowth of Tennessee’s strategic plan for STEM education, developed after creating a leadership council in 2014 to address gaps in the state’s education and employment. STEM-based industries complain of a shortage of qualified applicants to fill the demand for those jobs in the state.

“STEM-related careers are among the fastest growing in Tennessee and right now too many jobs are left unfilled, meaning our graduates are missing valuable opportunities for their futures,” McQueen said in Tuesday’s announcement.