Seventeen percent of Rio Rancho Public Schools’ high school students are failing, as are more than 30 percent of the middle-school students, Carl Leppelman, the district’s chief academics officer, told the RRPS Board of Education at its three-hour Dec. 14 meeting.
“We haven’t finished finals yet — there’s still time (for improvement),” he said, noting truancy isn’t helping students succeed.
He added that increased support from staffers, as well as more stress on attendance, should help students “focus on the curriculum.”
As Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, “90 percent of life is showing up,” and, “You can’t learn if you’re not there.” She also told the board the district is trying to locate 136 “missing” students, who may have moved out of state, are living now with relatives or something else, without notifying the district.
Leppelman also reiterated that 85 percent of students believed their teachers were doing their best to help them learn, and that adapting to virtual learning is the biggest challenge.
But, as Cleveland and Leppelman indicated, there is a good chance that in-person learning in the secondary schools will happen in the spring, as are a few other ideas they’ve come up with for additional support, adding that RRPS has “a tremendous math program.
“We want to be here and support you,” Leppelman said. “Algebra is a gatekeeper to your future.”
He also said, “Many students are doing really well,” including some who are ahead.

Lynda Kitts always had a smile.

 Encouraging math teachers
With that in mind, a new incentive has been developed for RRPS math teachers, honoring them at four levels: pre-certified and educational assistants; new teachers; novice teachers; and veteran teachers.
It’s called the (Lynda) Kitts Formula for Excellence Scholarship, named after the late Rio Rancho Middle School principal, who passed away earlier this year. Its purpose is to recruit and retain secondary teachers by providing access to high-quality, professional learning, certification and/or technology and resources.
The Rio Rancho Education Foundation will play a role in the scholarship.
Rio Rancho High School assistant principal Patricia Di Vasto, who holds math close to her heart, told the Observer, “It’s difficult to find and retain good math teachers. They can go on and obtain degrees in engineering and work at places like Sandia Labs and make a lot more money.
“Traditionally, it has been a dry subject to teach, but thanks to (the Common Core curriculum), teachers have been able to apply it to real-world skills,” she said. “It’s a hard combination to find, having the knowledge and being able to teach the curriculum in a way students can understand.”
Kitts’ husband, Stanlee Kitts, told board members via Zoom, if she were alive, this honor “would be one of those moments where she would be speechless.”

COVID tests for staffers
Hybrid teachers are expecting their students back in the classrooms Jan. 19.
Before school starts up, Cleveland said, 10 percent of the staffers — about 180, she estimated — will need to have COVID-19 tests come back “negative” for the state Public Education Department to OK re-opening classrooms.
But it’s the testing that she expects resistance to: Like so many things during the pandemic, the tests will be done online. Vault Medical Services in Minnesota is facilitating these tests, which require — at least to Cleveland’s knowledge — showing ID cards and Social Security numbers to Vault employees, who will then view educators taking home COVID tests.
The saliva test swabs will then go to either the district offices or UPS to be sent to Minnesota, with Vault returning results to educators, who then notify the district offices.
“This is brand new,” Cleveland said, informing the board she’d only learned about the new requirements that day, and terming the new directive “intrusive.”

Other business
Board members also:
• Commended the district’s legion of counselors and social workers for their hard work during the pandemic;
• Talked about the recent virtual New Mexico School Boards Association conference, in which board member Jeffery Morgan said he observed most board members there were confident that no kid got left behind;
• Approved a temporary reduction from 26 to 24 credits required for graduation for the Class of 2021, also due to the unusual situation caused by the pandemic; and
• Approved the list of capital outlay request: $216,5000 for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning repairs and upgrades, broken down to $119,500 for retro-commissioning at seven elementary schools, and the other $97,000 for retro-commissioning at Independence, Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools. Improved HVAC systems will lead to lower operating costs, and more health and safety for students, through enhanced air-filtering.
The board’s next scheduled virtual meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 11.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer