STEM School Highlands Ranch

Never Stop Innovating

STEM Board Response to Public Comment from May and June

STEM Board of Directors

Dear Public Comment Contributors from May and June,

The STEM Board of Directors thanks you for speaking up during Public Comment at the June Board meeting. Everyone who spoke showed their passion for STEM and commitment to seeing it improve. We are in very challenging times and we appreciate the concerns that our community has shared with us.

The Board receives countless emails each month that range from support to concerns and works hard to take a holistic view and approach to all comments and feedback. We understand that many may not agree with our response, but the Board takes into account a range of factors that all play into making sure that STEM succeeds and continues to improve.

In order to be as efficient as possible, the Board put together this comprehensive response to all those who spoke.

2020-21

Under Dr. Eucker’s leadership and with collaboration from the STEM Board, STEM remained open to in-person learning during the COVID global pandemic allowing students to access quality education when a large number of students lost learning in other schools that only offered remote options. Sixty percent of staff voted to remain virtual-only whereas our STEM families overwhelmingly preferred in-person learning. This decision had to be made before October Count when families still had options to change schools. For every 25 students, STEM supports one teacher. The loss of students would result in the loss of staff. In a spirit of collective efficacy, Dr. Eucker met with staff to explain how we must all work together to save jobs by remaining open to in-person learning. It was an extremely challenging time with some very upset staff members.

During this challenging time, Dr. Eucker regularly met with the approximately 20 other charter school leaders to understand how each school was managing and messaging the need to remain in person. All DCSD charter schools remained open and allowed students to attend five days per week.

Dr. Eucker understood the extra demand of in-person and virtual instruction on the staff and accommodated the need through maintaining virtual Fridays, providing teachers the time needed to create original content, grade papers and more. STEM was the only charter school to make this accommodation for its faculty.

Dr. Eucker immediately understood that COVID was a medical crisis and communicated to the entire community and STEM Board that this necessitated the Chief Medical Officer for STEM, Karen Lewis, RN, to take the lead in keeping STEM within the guidelines of ever-changing rules and regulations. Karen Lewis’s role at STEM was elevated from compliance to a chief advisor.

Over 16 school nurses resigned from DCSD due to the added stress this Spring. Dr. Eucker worked closely with Karen Lewis to make sure she had the support and resources to keep STEM in 100% compliance, while also serving in her role as providing oversight to almost 1,800 students.

Dr. Eucker worked closely with Nicole Bostel, Communications Director, to publish and update the way STEM remained in compliance with regulations. This communication was shared frequently, posted on the school website, linked in the weekly newsletter, and refreshed as guidelines changed over the school year.

2020-21 was one of the most challenging school years for all schools throughout the country. Until the final weeks of the school year, STEM had zero outbreaks. Each positive case was widely published with the protocols followed to give confidence that STEM staff and students were kept as safe as possible.

Under Dr. Eucker’s leadership, STEM was able to fulfill its mission, which required uncommon resilience and focus.

May 7th

Dr. Eucker has steadfastly supported the entire community in the recovery from the events of May 7th. She intuitively understands that healing is personal and with a large range of ages, diversity, and the complexities of a community of roughly 5,000, the recovery process must offer many supports to best meet needs.

The legal proceedings could not be commented on by STEM leadership nor the STEM Board of Directors.

Dr. Eucker has consulted with survivors of other tragedies to learn from their recovery. She has always stated that mental health is not her background. For this reason, she relies on the advice of mental health professionals from a variety of areas. AllHealth is the fiscal agent of the approximately $3 million grant to provide ongoing support to STEM’s community.

Frank DeAngelis has been her advisor since May 8th and he endorses the Day of Gratitude of STEMShares as a way forward. He reflects that some of the events Columbine hosted over the years, with the best of intentions, unwittingly re-traumatized some.

While Dr. Eucker was not inside of the school at the time of the tragedy, she was the only administrator on school grounds who was not on lockdown as she had just returned back to campus. As staff and students self-evacuated, Dr Eucker was able to guide them and provide comfort. She was also able to work directly with the incident commander and Dr. Tucker, who arrived on the scene to help coordinate buses to relocate students to the nearby Rec Center for reunification. She and Dr. Tucker walked students in the freezing rain to find shelter in local businesses.

After all of the students were matched with their parents, and staff provided transportation, she then traveled to Castle Rock to meet with DCSD leadership for crisis management. She returned to her home after 2 a.m. and returned to Castle Rock for a press conference at 5:30 a.m. and then spent the entire day at the crisis center. That evening she spoke to the capacity crowd of 1,200 seeking comfort and sensemaking in the unspeakable tragedy. Her strength to remain steadfast in crisis was a much-needed anchor for our community.

The overwhelming advice was to get students and staff back to a normal routine. Many were not ready but the familiar routine helped calm the majority.

The claim that Dr. Eucker has been anything less than caring and supportive of the healing of our community is simply untrue. She has been a strong and steadfast force to help all in need of mental health support. The resources for our community are published on the website, highlighted in the school’s newsletters, posted on the school walls, and linked in school publications. Dr. Eucker believes the experts that are employed at STEM should weigh in on the programs and resources available and so she relies on them to provide direction for our community.

School and student success

The STEM Board references a dashboard to measure success. By every metric monitored, Dr. Eucker continues to exceed all expectations. STEM is the highest-ranked school in DCSD by far. The average SAT score is over 100 points higher than the next highest high school in DCSD.

STEM received tremendous positive press as the home of Time Magazine’s first Kid of the Year, Gitanjali Rao. Dr. Eucker is very protective of the students who excel at STEM. She understands that quality education must accommodate exceptional talent. This attention to the needs of students keeps exceptional students enrolled at STEM as a partner to their extraordinary ambitions.

STEM achieves the extraordinary while remaining one of the lowest funded schools in the United States. Dr. Eucker works closely with the CFO, Star Ake, to build the school budget that places high value on competitive teacher salaries. STEM puts a constant focus to be more competitive than DCSD, as its payscale provides the comparison by which we should match ourselves as this is the only similarly funded public school system. Neighboring school districts have different funding that makes it unreasonable to attempt to match until supplemental funding streams can be identified through grants.

Dr. Eucker oversees eight departments and works closely with the leaders of each area: academics, finances, facilities, IT, medical, enrichment and communications while serving the STEM Board. She is responsible for all areas of DCSD compliance as well as a complicated network of external relationships and required compliance.

Dr. Eucker supports the leaders of each department to hire the best candidates. She does not participate in the selection of new employees. She encourages participation by future coworkers, students and parents. By allowing the ever-changing teams to make these decisions, STEM is able to remain refreshed and representative of the school’s growth mindset.

Dr. Eucker does not fire employees. One employee was terminated in 2020-21 and was recommended for dismissal by that school’s leader. Dr. Eucker reviewed the evidence, conferred with the STEM Board and school attorney before the employee was dismissed. The dismissal of an employee is a thoughtful and difficult process. STEM invests tremendous resources in every new hire so making quick decisions on personnel is not in the best interest of anyone.

Dr. Eucker believes strongly in the abilities and experience of her administrative team, and the rest of the Leadership Team at STEM. She trusts that they always have the best interests of the students, staff and our families. She has a 10-year history of consistent behavior that models respect and civility. She welcomes all points of view and frequently invites others to challenge her thinking so the school can be the very best version of Never Stop Innovating. She also empowers staff to advocate for themselves to bring new ideas to the table for how STEM can improve and innovate.

Special education

Dr. Eucker is a steadfast supporter of special education at STEM. This support service is fully staffed and funded. Students on IEP (individualized education plans) make some of the greatest academic growth in Colorado. She has been able to observe many models in her career and solidly supports providing in-class special education as opposed to reoving students for specialized instruction. Dr. Eucker relies on the STEM case manager to oversee and determine what is best for each student on an IEP. When there is a more challenging case, STEM partners with DCSD’s special education department to find a resolution.

There have been several challenges to STEM’s special education department through the years. STEM has prevailed 100% of the time. This is because STEM strictly adheres to federal law and closely partners with the authorizer, DCSD. Some STEM parents wished to rewrite federal law. STEM remains in compliance with all Colorado and federal laws. Dr. Eucker is a fierce supporter of special education and still protects the school from unreasonable parent expectations.

Master Plan, Replication and Strategic Plan

Dr. Eucker initiated and completed the bond refinancing of the lease-purchase of the Elementary School. This effort saved the school an estimated $55 million over the life of the bond. The financing reduced the facilities cost from 12% to 7% allowing for the newly planned CHSAA-style gym/theatre, new Middle School Cafeteria, two new engineering labs, P-Tech labs, grades 3-5 playground, and a new school facade.

Dr. Eucker works closely with investors of STEM’s bonds to build future support. Consistency of leadership is part of the scoring for the stability of investor confidence. Moody’s checks in with Dr. Eucker multiple times each year to maintain STEM’s enviable investment-grade rating. This rating keeps STEM’s finance costs competitive.

Dr. Eucker has championed a constant improvement model and the replication of Problem Based Learning across all of K-12. Under her leadership, STEM has added an Elementary School, P-Tech post-secondary programs in mechatronics, cybersecurity, and a future healthcare pathway at its main campus. The campus more than doubled as the reputation for excellence has anchored STEM School Highlands Ranch as one of the best schools in Colorado. Dr. Eucker’s task of replicating STEM School is on-going. As she navigates the changing political waters of neighboring School District School Boards, she is constantly exploring new avenues to open new campuses.

The goal of our Strategic Plan is the KOSON Instructional Method for All, which is to bring the STEM instructional method of Problem Based Learning to all students. The STEM Board adopted the comprehensive Strategic Plan in April of 2020. The impact of the Pandemic, and departures of leaders of some of the goals has delayed some of the work. Over the last month, the Board has instructed Dr. Eucker to take on more responsibilities in carrying out the action items of the Strategic Plan. The Board will continue to oversee the Strategic Plan, making sure that the Key Performance Indicators are being met. Under the guidance of our Strategic Plan facilitator, Christy Clay, work on the Strategic Plan is getting new energy and focus.

The Academy/Enrichment

Enrichment, formerly known as The Academy, has been a pillar of the school. It is a means to support extra-curricular activities STEM is known for such as TSA, BEST, First Robotics, dance, drama, business pursuits such as FBLA, DECA, fencing, chess, and so much more.

Dr. Eucker has been a tireless advocate and supporter of the Enrichment leader, Sara Phelps. Mrs. Phelps has headed Enrichment since 2012. She meets weekly with Dr. Eucker and they work toward goals set by Mrs. Phelps. Due to COVID, Enrichment could not sustain overhead and Dr. Eucker allocated school resources to keep Enrichment viable until 2021-22 when programs can resume.

The change from The Academy to Enrichment was thoroughly explained to the community when it was necessary to move the program to the School. Enrichment is audited as part of the School. All funding and donations to Enrichment are earmarked for that purpose.

Dr. Eucker often refers to Enrichment as the pixie dust to STEM School Highlands Ranch. Any misconception that she does not highly value Enrichment is simply incorrect.

Political landscape

Charter schools bring competition to neighborhood schools. This is by design when created over 20 years ago by legislation. Teacher Unions have organized to remove this competition through tremendous investment in school board elections. Dr. Eucker understands this political reality and has positioned STEM to remain in strong standing as a DCSD authorized school.

Style of leadership

In Dr. Eucker’s previous evaluation, she was compared to a Level 5 leader.

Level 5 leaders are defined as being timid and ferocious, shy and fearless and modest, with a fierce, unwavering commitment to high standards. Characteristics common to Level 5 leaders include: humility, will, ferocious resolve, and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves.

The STEM board hired an external consultant experienced with evaluating C-suite executives from some of the largest companies in Colorado. He completed a 360 review of Dr. Eucker’s leadership. His summary compared her style to Elan Musk. She is visionary and has strong beliefs in the school’s mission. She can be intimidating in her quiet resolve to provide an exceptional education for all students. Dr. Eucker was evaluated by her subordinates as always willing to listen and respected the opinions of others. She models a growth mindset and supports the promotion of emerging leaders.

Dr. Eucker is unrelenting in her focus to provide opportunities for all students. She brings a unique mix of depth of knowledge, belief in the capacity of students to go far beyond all expectations, removes any gatekeeping, and is a staunch supporter of exceptional teachers.

Dr. Eucker challenges the school leaders to make sure every teacher delivers on the brand promise. She frequently states that if you would not place your own child in a teacher’s class, then you have the moral obligation to not place the children of other families in a subpar classroom. It is hard work and STEM does the hard work under her guidance.

There are growth areas for Dr. Eucker that the Board has tasked her with, which include establishing more consistent opportunities for her to engage with staff, build on the positive staff culture that staff members have expressed are actionable items that can be replicated across all of K-12, develop stronger relationships with her admin team that includes clear decision-making processes, focus more on staff supports and more.

Why STEM attracts students seeking more

STEM attracts students and their families seeking far more than the neighborhood school. Many schools are satisfied with managing students. Far too many schools squander potential for greatness. Dr. Eucker has proven that her focus on removing barriers and providing Problem Based Learning opens the door for students to go far beyond previously defined limits. Our school ranking and student achievement prove her correct.

In summary

The STEM board reflected on your list of challenges to STEM through the years. Instead of blaming Dr. Eucker, the board is appreciative of how Dr. Eucker persevered to overcome each obstacle on the School’s ascent to a premier school in the United States. Dr. Eucker is nationally recognized as the leader of our school. She is a Level 5 leader and STEM students and families are the beneficiaries in her belief in each child’s greatness.

Please consider reframing your adversarial campaign to one of collaboration. Together we can achieve more.

STEM Board of Directors

  • An all-volunteer group of dedicated STEM parents and community leaders
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