STEM School's contract renewed for five years

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STEM School Highlands Ranch's contract was renewed for five years, contingent upon multiple conditions, at a special Douglas County School District Board of Education meeting June 29, a day before the K-12 charter school's contract was set to expire.

"It feels great," Penny Eucker, the school's executive director, said. "I had high confidence we would prevail, but it's nice to resolve it here."

The school board had listened to nearly three hours of public comment 11 days earlier as the board considered rescinding a prior three-year contract offer and offering a one-year extension.

The resolution, introduced June 14 and considered at a June 18 board meeting, would have essentially tacked on one year to the school's current, five-year contract, giving the district more time to address a list of concerns with the charter school that serves roughly 1,800 students and to negotiate a new contract. The resolution said the May 7 school shooting that left one student dead and eight others injured raised questions about the school's safety and security.

Board members said that the newly negotiated contract strikes a good balance between accountability and the school's success.

"It is our sworn duty to hold any school accountable for the health, best education practices and safety of its students, and I believe this contract is that," board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said.

Board member Anthony Graziano added: "I would like to call out all the outstanding, great compromises made by all parties, to present a really mutually beneficial resolution and agreement, one that will deliver a full, five-year agreement to the STEM community to improve their financial stability and allow them to continue to achieve their educational achievement objectives."

After the June 18 meeting, board members felt that the public didn't understand that a renewal of the contract, not a termination of the contract, was up for discussion.

“I just want to be really clear that we never had any intention of shutting down this great school,” Lemieux said.

The school's safety policies have been in the public eye since the May 7 shooting. Two STEM students were arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack. A private security guard allegedly fired at a Douglas County deputy and wounded a student.

The school did not have a resource officer, insteady employing private security. The Douglas County Sheriff's Office declined to renew a contract for a resource officer before the 2018-19 school year.

Per the 45-page contract approved by the school board June 29, STEM will have to commit to a number of stipulations, including developing a parent complaint policy, implementing a whistleblower policy, conducting annual evaluations of leadership and staff, and regularly reporting to the district on finances and safety assessments. The school is required to contract with local law enforcement to provide an SRO to the high school program and hire a private security officer for the middle and elementary school programs.

For enrollment, preference will be given to students who live in Douglas County, the contract states.

STEM is also required to conduct regular staff, parent and student satisfaction surveys and report the findings to DCSD's Choice Programming Office, and hire and retain licensed special education teachers and mental health professionals "in a manner that meets or exceeds District staffing ratios," the contract says.

The full contract is available here . If STEM does not comply with the renewal conditions, the contract will be shortened to three years.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Eucker said.

The packed boardroom of parents and students at the June 29 special meeting were elated to know that their school was approved for five more years.

“It's taught me so many technological skills,” student Aidan Frey said. “It's the best school.”

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