Members of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education said goodbye to two-term member Catherine Cullen, stepping down from her seat after deciding not to run for re-election.

Her successor, Jessica Tyler, will be sworn in to the District 5 seat at the board’s next meeting, Jan. 10 at 5:30 p.m.

In addition to kudos from board members and Superintendent Sue Cleveland, former board member Ramon Montaño visited the live board meeting and spoke during the public comment section about Cullen, with whom he admitted he had “butted heads at times.”

Being a school board member, Montaño said, is considered by many as “probably the most thankless job you can have as a public official.” But he disagreed, saying Cullen always did her homework and “she always kept everybody on their game.”

“You were a wonderful example of what due diligence means,” said Cleveland.

Cullen was handed a plaque, commemorating her eight years on the board, and the soon-to-be grandmother told the board, “It’s been an honor to serve.”

Even as Cullen steps down and Tyler steps in, the district still faces a critical shortage of teachers. Cleveland said there are 1,200 such vacancies statewide, and with many teachers deciding to retire at the end of this month instead of at the end of the school year, that number will rise in January.

“Adequate staffing, rather than COVID case numbers, continues to be the greatest challenge,” Cleveland said. “We have made progress in the hiring of custodial staff, but not for bus drivers.”

In other matters:

  • This is a rendering of how the new turf at Lightning Bolt Stadium will appear from above, in time for the 2022 prep season. Rio Rancho High School is also getting new turf at its stadium. The replacements became possible after approval at the Dec. 13 RRPS school board meeting. Courtesy rendering.

    The board approved Field Turf USA to replace the turf surfaces at the football stadiums at Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools. Field Turf, one of three firms responding to a request for proposals, scored the highest and submitted the lowest bids: just more than $1.1 million at RRHS and $1.2 million at CHS. The price difference covers additional drainage requirements at CHS.

  • The board OK’d an appropriation of $104,000 from the state Department of Finance to replace a school bus;
  • The CHS football team was commended for its recent state championship, with the district’s executive director of athletics, Bruce Carver, touting head coach Heath Ridenour’s hiring for that post in 2012 as “one of the best moves we ever made … more than anything, I am proud of the way coach Ridenour leads.”

Under Ridenour, the Storm have won three state championships.

Ridenour, thanking his coaching staff and CHS administration, said the key to his teams’ success has been its players “committing to something bigger than themselves … these are the leaders of tomorrow.”

  • In the public comment session, which was available in person for the first time in a long time, Daryl Filipek told the board about his son, who he said had been bullied.

Although the district website has information on what parents can do if they suspect their students are being bullied, he thought the placement should be higher on the site and the schools “need to be more proactive” on the topic.

About the author

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer