Jeffco Middle School STEM Discussion Makes Me Scratch My Head

Last night little Eddie was able to drop in on a school board meeting for what was until recently the largest school district in Colorado. That’s right. The Jeffco Board of Education took the show out into the community, coming to the people and giving residents a chance to sign up online to make public comments. (Apparently, this is all a new thing.)

So it was kind of funny to hear a couple of the commenters complain that the school board wasn’t being transparent enough because they increased transparency. I may be pretty smart, but some things are hard for me to get.

Part of the reason for the big crowd at the Arvada High School auditorium was a debate about adding sixth grade to Deer Creek Middle School as part of an expanded STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) program. Now I don’t necessarily have an opinion on this course of action, but the way it’s been handled sends up red warning flags.

The new school board had been told a “community process” took place in the area to get input from students, parents, and teachers about the plan. A district report to the Board of Education tells about a survey in which parents approved of expanding STEM to 7th grade (omitted was any evidence of a survey on moving 6th graders to the middle school for STEM). Also, I couldn’t find where the plan had been discussed publicly beyond district officials and school principals before December.

It gets crazier. 9News education reporter Nelson Garcia notes that district officials told him the previous school board voted to approve the plan in May 2013. but then they backed off the story when evidence showed no such action had taken place. They then claimed that the decision is “within the authority of the superintendent.”

Huh? That right there made me scratch my head. Who is in charge to make the decision? And who is listening to the students and families? Some speakers showed up on both sides of the issue. No one could attest that there had been a “community process,” like a survey or anything. But some parents and kids showed up to speak for the change, including one quoted by Garcia:

“I couldn’t come up with a good reason why you would remove the choice for me to attend STEM in sixth grade,” 5th grader Ethan Campbell said. “I mean, it’s a choice right? You’re not telling me I have to go STEM in sixth grade. You’re giving me the option. So, why take away that option?”

That makes a compelling aspect of the story. Families should have more quality choices, but how do we get to that point? I can’t bear to think it, but this looks like a case of “Adults Lied, Children Cried.” Are district officials working at odds with board members to frustrate them and cause chaos? That approach certainly isn’t a way to build trust and confidence. Future decisions can’t be made that way.

My eyes are wide open now.