School officials stand pat on STEAM school sibling preference

Farmington school board members on Tuesday left sibling preference in place for the district’s new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) school, which still doesn’t have a name.

Located in the former Dunckel Middle School building on 12 Mile Road, the STEAM school expands the current Highmeadow Common Campus program from grades K-5 to K-8. Highmeadow is the district’s only school of choice, populated through an annual lottery. Siblings are given preference at that school, and they will be at the new building, for now.

After vocal opposition from parents, board members last month voted down a School of Choice Options committee recommendation.

“We think we learned our lesson in December,” Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch said Tuesday. “We’re giving you all three options, and we’ll leave it to you.”

The three options included sibling preference only if spots remained after all other interested students had been placed (voted down in December), eliminating sibling preference with the class of 2030, and Highmeadow’s current process, which places siblings first and reduces the number of open slots.

Board member David Turner asked Highmeadow principal Dr. Dyanne Sanders whether the school has had any trouble placing siblings. While there are sometimes issues – particularly in upper grades – she said, “somehow before the school year starts, we’ve been able to work it out.”

If the current practice is working, board member Jim Stark wondered, why did the committee recommend a different option? Aaron Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of K-12 Instructional Services, said some committee members wanted to open the STEAM school opportunity to more students across the district.

“I do see a value in making sure that siblings can be with their family,” board member Terry Johnson said. “However, I am concerned that it’s not fair to the others. My biggest concern is I don’t want anyone to have an advantage one way or another just because they have multiple children.”

Sanders said parents may choose to not enroll their children in the STEAM school without a guarantee that siblings would also attend.

Board president Jessica Cummings said two options would leave families not knowing whether all of their children would attend the same school.

“Our focus has been as a district to support our neighborhood schools as places where families can send their children,” she said. “Families feel like it’s home. I cannot conclude that there’s a perfect option.”

She added that by leaving the lottery as it is, officials could later revisit the issue.

Officials voted on the motions in order; option 2 carried with board members Johnson, Turner, and Angie Smith opposing, and Cummings, Stark, Terri Weems, and Mark Przeslawski in favor.