Sue Cleveland

Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland’s “State of the District 2021” report and a decision to replace longtime food services provider Sodexo with a company headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., highlighted the RRPS Board of Education’s in-person three-hour session, which was streamed online, last Monday.
Yes, enrollment is down and the district is about $3 million in the hole, which includes a $1 million shortfall in transportation. But Cleveland was optimistic that more students would be in the district in the 2021-22 school year and the state would provide more dollars via the equalization formula.
RRPS focused, she explained, “on what matters most — continuing to provide opportunities for student learning, albeit in somewhat different ways (due to the pandemic).”
She commended the board, staff, students, parents and community for the dedication, hard work and care demonstrated during the pandemic.
“We pulled together to make the best of difficult and unprecedented times,” she said.
RRPS strengthened its communications with legislators, key state education officials, community leaders and others to advocate for the needs of students and staff.
“We continue to advocate for sustainable funding for schools. Our district continues to struggle to provide staffing and program enhancements, which would enable us to move student performance more rapidly,” Cleveland said.
An effective tool for distributing information and obtaining feedback this year was Parent University, she said.
“We never took our sights off the strategic goals of building staff capacity, striving to maintain student achievement and college and career readiness, managing resources despite unexpected obstacles and addressing significant costs generated by the pandemic,” Cleveland continued.
She noted, “The district saw challenges as opportunities to grow and learn, especially with regards to virtual and hybrid learning. We are far stronger in educational technology and technology infrastructure than we were prior to the pandemic.”
Other highlights of the 2020-21 school year included the opening of the new Shining Stars Preschool campus and Joe Harris Elementary, as well as “other new student initiatives,” such as expanding food services to virtual students, offering online counseling services, expanding health services, keeping electives and activities viable and providing tutoring for students.
Perhaps most importantly, she said, “Quality staff is essential to achieving quality schools. We took a step forward in improving staffing capacity by initiating a Teacher Intern Program. … They had a chance to work directly with many experienced teachers, which has prepared them to take over their own classrooms next fall.”
Remaining optimistic, she touched upon some new features in the district for the coming school year, and noted the district is “hopeful … for a more stable school year.”
As the district approaches the road ahead, “RRPS will continue to focus on continuous improvement and find ways to leverage our assets — people, time, dollars and relationships — in order to ‘Ignite Student Potential,’” she vowed.
Later in the evening, board members were surprised to see Sodexo, which has prepared and served food for the district for at least 25 years, ranked third among four vendors vying for the contract. The district’s new Food Services director, Dean Gallegos, was impressed with the No. 1 vendor, and the board approved Southwest Food Excellence by a 5-0 vote.
The district will spend $3.35 per meal. Students will eat for free in the ’21-22 school year, while virtual-only students will be able to take advantage of “grab & go” meals daily.
The board also:
• Commended the Transportation Department for the way it handled ever-changing school bus schedules, along with the 64 drivers who met the challenge;
• Listened to a report on the Sandoval Regional Health Collaborative 10×10 Initiative, basically “10 things every child should know by the age of 10,” along with local health resources for parents;
• Heard the school improvement officers’ reports on the receipt of 236 applications for the virtual SpaRRk Academy for elementary students, and 123 applications for the virtual secondary school at Cyber Academy — well fewer than anticipated; and learned 80 percent of prospective Cyber Academy students’ parents want their learning to be 100 percent virtual; and
• Approved minor changes to the sales contract of 20 acres of land adjacent to Mountain View Middle School being sold — at $58,864 per acre — to Clean Slate Properties of Rio Rancho.
The board’s virtually streamed next meeting will take place May 10 at 5:30 p.m.

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Gary Herron | Observer staff writer