What you may not know about me is that I hold these guiding principles to shape every decision I make at STEM School Highlands Ranch:
- Students have infinite potential limited only by opportunity.
- Teachers hold the keys to this opportunity and attracting and retaining the best is mission-critical.
- The best way to develop student potential is through a layered process beginning with a world-class question (one that you would ask experts in that field), embed learning objectives built from Colorado and national standards, layer technology (preferably something new that adds to the student repertoire of tech tools), and collaboration with peers and experts with high language load. This is STEM’s Problem Based Learning Instructional Model, its secret sauce, its north star.
When we were allowed to be in person, I would launch each school year with the message to all staff that my role is to serve our faculty to be their best. Nothing is more important at STEM than the teacher-student bond. Making sure each teacher has the resources they need to be able to teach rich and meaningful PBLs is my job. I am here to steer and row toward our north star.
What happened along the way?
Through two very challenging years, we drifted from our mission. Our leaders, staff, students and families began a tough journey of recovery and everyone was at a different place. Allowing opportunities for patience and grace for everyone was necessary. As we started our discussions in January of 2019 on what our focus would be for the next school year, our Leadership and Administration Team were invigorated and excited to get our teams back on track.
In March, all that changed. Uncertainty loomed. Guidance and protocols were ever-changing, and trying to resume planning was even more challenging without knowing if we could open or not. The concerns of COVID impacted everyone, no one was spared. We did our best to continue to infuse some of the exciting and new initiatives that our leaders had begun planning and implementing for our staff and students. However, the weight of constant changes and uncertainty posed so many challenges. I am truly compassionate about the challenges so many of our faculty and staff faced and our team did their best to try and infuse uplifting and positivity where we could, but in some cases, the uncertainty and constant changes proved to be too difficult a mountain to summit.
As the leader of our school and mission, I must also be true to the reason we exist, for our students. This means that I also must make sure that STEM is a good steward of the funding we receive through public funding. It is a balance that I must always try to maintain. I am faced with tough decisions that I know will upset some of our stakeholders from time to time and I do not make those decisions lightly or with ill intent. I fought hard to make sure that our entire staff of 175+ faculty and support personnel received their 5% promised increase from last year to this year, which was not the case for many educators throughout the state. Our Business Office worked hard to make sure that we received additional funds through the PPP loan and the COVID-19 Relief Funds, which helped us honor our commitment to our staff and also provide PPE resources and equipment to our staff and building.
STEM’s unique model this school year was an attempt to best-fit the polarized needs of all of our stakeholders. Providing our students and families with flexibility in either Virtual or In-Person learning led to our teachers and staff to carry the burden. While we were able to make it through, it was another tough year that is leaving many to rethink remaining at STEM. I know that these are tough times and that we will once again have staff members that choose to not stay. However, I am committed to getting STEM back on the right course, which includes finding ways to address and improve teacher retention.
2021-22 will be the year of culture building. STEM will rebuild with tremendous energy leveraging the creative talent of our amazing faculty. Engaging in meaningful PBL is a joyful experience for students, their families and teachers who guide the journey. Our faculty have the academic freedom to build the PBL around their personal passion. We want to unleash the creativity of our students and our teachers because that is where the true joy and engagement of learning happens.
Every grade at STEM has or should have enduring PBLs to be refreshed and occasionally replaced for better ones inspired by the teachers of that course or grade. STEM has committed to providing our faculty with the resources necessary to be successful in 2021-22 to provide inspiring PBLs throughout the school year. College Board’s AP courses and Concurrent Enrollment have external non-negotiables so these courses could, but might not be taught through PBL.
My personal goal is to make STEM a workplace where every employee enjoys coming to work, supports their co-workers with positive energy and all work together to find the best solutions for any problem. Those who know me best know that I want a magical place for students to soar encouraged by their caring teachers. I ask that our entire community join me in this challenge. Together we will have the best year yet.
Ramadan Kareem to our families who celebrate this holiday,
P.J. Eucker PhD