There was news about improved budget expectations and growing career technical education at the first 2021 meeting of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education last Monday evening, again in a virtual session.
During the mandatory organization of the officers, last year’s roles didn’t change. Amanda Galbraith is still the president, Jeffrey Morgan remains the vice president and Noreen Scott will again be the secretary.
Then Superintendent Sue Cleveland presented what she termed “really, really good news.” She told the board members, “The budget is much better than originally anticipated,” but that the district is still short on educators.
She told the board that the surveillance testing for teachers, randomly done and needing 10 percent each time, has been successful on a drive-thru basis at Rio Rancho High School — even exceeding the minimum.
 After the district receives a “tool kit” from Midland High School, which will be used in planning for the to-be-determined opening of the district’s middle and high schools, Cleveland expects to have “some good plans in the works” for getting hybrid students back in the classrooms.
Speaking on openings, Cleveland said, “Staffing will be a real challenge this spring and next fall — we have a lot of vacancies … at the secondary level, in particular.”
Of course, opening the secondary buildings still needs the go-ahead from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Public Education Department.
Also classified as “good news” by Cleveland was the anticipation that the state legislature, whose 60-day session begins Tuesday, is still on board with the early childhood services expansion. Despite the district’s best efforts, and with the opening of the new Shining Stars Preschool, Cleveland said RRPS is serving “only half of the students who could benefit” from it, and that more space is needed.
Also needing more space, when the board got down to business matters, is a building for the expanding career-technical offerings. Nobody speaking on the subject knew how big such a facility should be, although Central New Mexico Community College is a partner and that may help.
“We’ve made a lot of headway” and “the future looks bright,” Chief Academics Officer Carl Leppelman said.
While expanding the offerings, which include the addition of a career pathway to being an athletic trainer, it’s important to increase student and parent awareness of career opportunities, he said. So is getting as many students as possible one-semester internships for more hands-on experience.
“A lot of our students don’t even know what’s out there,” Leppelman said.
RRPS has 18 career technical offerings, including nursing, welding and fire science, with four of them providing dual credit with CNM.
The facility sought will house courses in electrical work; plumbing and pipefitting; heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; carpentry and construction technology; welding; and automotive and diesel technology.
Cleveland said it will be important to get “a pipeline” set up so when the state’s CTE students are done with their schooling, jobs are available in New Mexico, and they don’t head out of state.
Local partnerships with the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, Sandoval Economic Alliance and NAIOP are in place, with more sought.
The board also heard Facilities Executive Director Melanie Archibeque inform it of a $117,500 award from the Public School Capital Outlay Council, to be matched by RRPS, for developing a five-year master plan.
The board’s next virtual meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 25.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer