February is a busy month for everyone at STEM as planning for the new school year is in full swing. Faculty and staff complete an Intent to Return form indicating their desire to return to STEM for the next school year. This is also the time where faculty can state their preference in changing grades or courses taught. At the same time, students in grades 6-12 turn in their course selections, while families let us know if they plan to return for the next school year and if any siblings plan to enroll. All this information is taken into consideration as we build the class schedules for the new school year.
The Academic Guide on the website lists all of the approved courses that we offer. In addition to the courses taught at STEM, high school students have access to a myriad of concurrent enrollment college classes through our partner institutions that include ACC, MSU and UCD.
It is critical for our secondary students to turn in their course selections in order for us to build the Master Schedule. When too few students enroll in a course, we have to make the difficult decision of cutting that course from the options available. Some courses are taught every other year due to enrollment interest. During our planning process last year, we were not sure how COVID-19 would impact our schedule so we left several courses on our Master Schedule that had low enrollment. As we move into next school year, we are working to make our Master Schedule more efficient and reduce the number of low-enrollment courses.
Like all schools, we have many singleton courses defined as “offered at one time a semester.” With a block schedule, secondary students have eight choices. We attempt to schedule singleton courses at different times to maximize the fulfillment of student requests. Typically, we achieve around 93% fulfillment. Due to the complexities of student choices and the number of singleton courses, students sometimes have to choose between two courses offered at the same time.
Once the Master Schedule is finalized, our Faculty receive their assignments based on preferences and availability of schedules. We have made a commitment to our faculty that they will not be teaching in-person and virtual learners at the same time next year. To gauge parent interest in what they are planning for their student(s) next year, we will survey parents in late April or early May to determine how many students plan to remain virtual for 2021-22. If possible, we will provide dedicated virtual learning.
Another commitment that we are making to our staff for the new school year is around compensation. Provided that the General Assembly approves of an increase in PPR as anticipated, we will offer 3% raises to all staff instead of freezing wages like most schools and school districts are having to do. Our Business Office, led by Star Ake, has done outstanding work in making sure we are financially sound for the long term.
As our faculty consider filling out their Intent to Return forms, it is a time for reflection. It has been an incredibly challenging school year for educators and really, almost everyone. This is truly an amazing place to work and we hope the rich relationships outweigh the stress of this past year.
P.J. Eucker PhD