Board narrowly approves expansion of Deer Creek’s STEM program

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By Daniel Laverty

Jeffco school board member Julie Williams cast the deciding vote as the board approved the expansion of Deer Creek Middle School’s STEM program for sixth-graders at last Thursday’s board meeting.

The vote was 3-2, narrowly giving sixth-graders the choice to join Deer Creek’s STEM program. Board members Williams, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted for the expansion, while board President Ken Witt and board member John Newkirk voted against it.

“I ran on choice, and this gives parents another choice for their kids,” Williams said after the meeting. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a curriculum plan that offers a concentration in math and the sciences. Deer Creek Middle currently offers the STEM option to its seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Students who enroll in the STEM program are expected to have an intense interest in math and science.

At its retreat last month, the board approved the district’s plan to send a letter that notified parents of Deer Creek’s expansion of the STEM program to 90 Jeffco sixth-graders. 

But at the board’s Jan. 9 study session, Witt and Newkirk said they weren’t comfortable with the expansion of STEM. Newkirk said he heard from parents who said there was no public discussion about the newly expanded program. Witt asked the board to stall the sixth-grade STEM program until the district could show that community outreach had taken place.

“I can’t find evidence that the community has been involved,” Newkirk said Jan. 9.

District Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said parent input was heard and that area principals had been consulted and agreed with the plan before a decision to expand STEM was made. She said it was something both parents and the district wanted.

At last Thursday’s meeting, dozens of parents and students showed up to support the Deer Creek STEM expansion.

“In December, a notice was sent out to the community about the STEM expansion,” said Mark Campbell. “There was a buzz in our community. My son became very excited and submitted his application right away.”

Jeffco parents from Morrison said they would pursue options in Douglas County if the STEM program was not offered.

Parents in support spent nearly an hour making their case. Two parents insisted that more discussion was needed about expanding the program.

“I’m not speaking in opposition of the STEM program, but rather I’m requesting that more time be taken on the issue,” said Christa Newkin, a Jeffco parent. 

Meg Hollingsworth, a Bradford Elementary parent, said not enough community input was heard before the decision was made.

“I have so many questions,” she said. “If my student stays at Bradford for sixth grade, will they be able to enter the STEM program in seventh or eighth grade?”

The board continued on with other business after the STEM discussion; before adjournment, Dahlkemper made a motion to approve the STEM expansion, which passed 3-2.

“The community needs to know if the STEM program is moving forward so they can make plans (for next school year),” Dahlkemper said.

The audience broke into rousing applause, and, after the board meeting, many audience members and parents thanked Williams for her deciding vote.

“Thank you so much for what you did,” Deer Creek principal Rob Hoover said to Williams as he shook the board member’s hand.

“I was never on the other side of this; I was always neutral,” Williams said after the meeting. “Although I didn’t see any (proof of) community involvement (during the process) … I think this was the best decision for kids.”

Deer Creek Middle School’s sixth-grade STEM program will start next school year. As of Jan. 15, 36 students had signed up for Deer Creek’s sixth-grade STEM program.