Planning for 2021-22 School Year Faces Many Challenges

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Former Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis stepped up as my mentor and support on May 8, 2019, and has always been there for me, STEM staff and all communities in the aftermath of a crisis. Last winter, he said it will get much harder before it gets better. After 2019, I could not imagine how this could possibly be true. Neither of us could predict COVID and global stress that added to our collective recovery.

The entire STEM community has been through so much in the past two years. Enrollment was predictably reduced in the Fall of 2019 when some families could not return after the tragedy. Many more returned feeling the shared experience was part of the healing process. Even more, joined STEM for the first time.

Even though enrollment dipped in the summer of 2019, STEM decided to not right-size faculty to student ratios (right-sizing means adjusting staff needs based on enrollment numbers). The decision was made knowing that it would not be sustainable over time, but given the circumstances we wanted to try and keep our community together as best as we could.

As the school year progressed and we continued to move through our recovery process, COVID hit the global community in the Spring 2020 causing enormous stress in all sectors, especially schools. As we ended the 2019-20 School Year, we once again made the decision to not right-size our faculty to student ratios, even though our enrollment had decreased slightly. As a Leadership Team, we believe that impacting our staff in such a negative way during a Pandemic was not the right thing to do.

STEM was able to secure a one-time Payroll Protection Program grant of just under $2M that was applied 100% to payroll for the first months of 2020-21. This infusion allowed STEM to continue the unsustainable practices of not being right-sized for enrollment for this school year.

Retaining top talent requires STEM to offer competitive salaries and benefits with DCSD. As one of the lowest funded school districts in one of the lowest funded states, this is a constant challenge. The 2021-22 School Year will be the year that STEM will have to be right-sized based on enrollment as this is the only way to remain sustainable.

As we right-size our staff, it also means that secondary teacher schedules may be impacted as the schedules become more efficient. Currently, secondary teachers teach six classes with one teacher-designated planning period (90 minutes) and one department-designated planning period (90 minutes) during the instructional teaching portion of the day (7:55 a.m.-2:55 p.m.). Teachers have multiple preps (multiple versions of similar subject areas) and are teaching virtual and in-person students simultaneously. There are no direct Problem-Based Learning instructional supports in the classroom for teachers, which means that they are planning and implementing on their own.

The initially proposed adjustment for next year is for the one department-designated planning period to be moved to after school during the hours of 2:55-3:45 p.m., freeing up that previous plan period for instructional time for students (another class). Also, the number of preps for teachers would be reduced and teaching students virtually and in-person simultaneously would be ended. Teachers will be given direct classroom and instructional support with Problem-Based Learning instruction through the changes in our Teacher Support Model (to be shared soon), and our Professional Development program will have a focus on PBL and Standards-Based Learning development for our teachers.

There is never an ideal situation when we are faced with tough decisions that impact our entire community. Prior to Spring Break, a Secondary Staff Meeting was scheduled for the end of this week, where this first draft of the proposal was presented. It opens the floor for discussion and new ideas. A teacher-lead taskforce, lead by Mike Shallenberger, is working with Liz Dougan, Head of School, to find ways to improve the initial proposal. We hope to have updates to share with our staff this coming week as the task force continues its work.

Since we are a K-12 school, I want to also share in full transparency that throughout this time, grades K-5 have not changed in planning time. It has always been a woefully inadequate 200 minutes and although fewer students, they must plan for all subject areas.

Change is hard especially when the past two years have been so incredibly challenging. Getting back to normal does not feel normal as so many became accustomed to a COVID normal.

Throughout the challenges of the past two years, I have been inspired by dedicated teachers, staff, students and their families. We are all committed to making next year the best yet.

Our good wishes to all who celebrate Passover, Palm Sunday and Holi,

P.J. Eucker PhD
Executive Director

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