With COVID-19 cases popping up more frequently in recent weeks, Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland’s introductory remarks before last Monday’s three-hour school board meeting took aim at the pandemic.

“The numbers of COVID cases are continuing to rise in our schools … and are a reflection of the numbers of cases in the general community,” she said.

Cleveland said staff members have become better in getting their surveillance tests, but often the results, usually done on Wednesdays, aren’t reported to the district until late Friday, or even the weekend.

She’s hoping those tests can be taken more often on Mondays and Tuesdays, which is harder than on Wednesdays for teachers, because getting results on Fridays tends to force more staff members and custodians to work on weekends to disinfect.

Without at least one day off, Cleveland said, employees are exhausted.

“We are appreciative of the efforts from parents, students and staff … That teamwork is what helps us move these cases along very gradually,” she added. “Our staff has gone above and beyond, (but) we are closing in on the threshold of how many positive cases we can handle.”

The board, with all five members present, also heard a report from the 23-member Behavioral Health Advisory Committee, among them several health professionals, on participation before the 2020-21 school year ends in a School Health Assessment & Performance Evaluation System (SHAPE).

The results and data gleaned from the short tests at all RRPS schools “(tell) us what we are doing well and where are the gaps?’ said Tonna Burgos, executive director of Student Services.

Board members also heard about the successful teacher intern program, which Cleveland lamented has been reduced in numbers because the best interns are being snatched up and signed to full-time teaching positions.

The new program, Cleveland said, “(has provided) excellent entry into teaching and serving the needs of the students.”

Lobbyist Cris Balzano updated the board on how the 60-day state legislative session, Jan. 19-March 20, is shaping up.

So far, he said, it looks like the major topics will be:

• The Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit;

• Broadband internet service expansion to rural parts of the state;

• Medical and recreational cannabis;

• Behavioral and mental health; and

• The student-funding formula, which typically funds school districts for current enrollment, hurting most of the 89, if not all, in New Mexico because many parents have gone to home-schooling during the pandemic. Balzano said legislators are tinkering with a formula that could average the 2019-20 school year and 2020-21 school year, or use several previous school year enrollments.

The board also:

• Commended the Rio Rancho Education Foundation, which donated $12,000 worth of personal protection equipment — masks, gloves, face shields and more — and the district’s custodial staff, who “stepped up” to keep the schools as safe as possible during the pandemic; and

• Approved the extension of the district’s food services contract with Sodexo to five years.

The school board’s next meeting is today at 5:30 p.m., again in a virtual setting.

The Enterprise Holdings Foundation donated $1,500 to Friends of Libraries and Literacy, Rio Rancho Inc. to purchase downloadable books for Rio Rancho Public Schools libraries. The foundation is the philanthropic arm of Enterprise Holdings, which, through its integrated global network of independent regional subsidiaries and franchises, operates Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands. Due to unexpected costs associated with COVID-19, the RRPS library book budget was severely reduced. Here, from left, Angela Adams, retired school librarian and vice-president of the Friends, hands a check to RRPS’s Carl Leppelman, the chief academic officer, while Joe Driear, Friends president, and Deena White, RRPS’s lead librarian, look on Thursday morning. RRPS libraries will buy 257 e-books that can be borrowed and read by both RRPS and home-schooled students. There were two other donations — a matching donation of $1,500 from the Friends and an anonymous donation of $500. A commendation for the Friends is on the agenda for today’s school board meeting. Photo by Gary Herron.

An edge with Edgenuity?

As for the public comment session, of the three emails received by board members, two of them echoed the same concern: a lack of teacher support in Advanced Placement (AP) courses taken via the online platform Edgenuity.

According to Andrea St. Clair, whose son is taking one AP course at Cleveland High School, “The Edgenuity teachers assigned do not teach, mentor, provide guidance nor answer questions when students ask for help (even when they ask repeatedly).

“The teacher told the students, ‘You would have passed the AP exam; be happy with the D you received on your exam because you still have a C in the course.

“These are students who are not OK with a D or a C or the lack of understanding the content! The only thing the Edgenuity teachers provide is reopening retakes in the Edgenuity platform,” her email continued. “The only feedback students have received on their writing abilities is one graded assignment with a short comment on the length of the writing. … We have asked CHS that the AP students be allowed to join the AP students in Google classroom for (the second quarter) to enable the students to start getting immediate feedback on their learning.”

The email sent by Jolynn Pruitt, whose son is taking two AP classes, indicated she also wanted students to learn on the same platform and be graded equally.

“… if administrators were to look at his progress and overall grade, they will see he is doing well,” she wrote. “However, what they will not see is the amount of time and effort he is having to put into the classes, or the stress and anxiety caused by the workload and forced much of the schedule. …

“When we were deciding which learning option to go with for the semester, we attended the Parent Universities and sent many emails to ask questions, and we were under the assumption that our son would have access and instruction from a teacher for the AP classes.

“That has not been the case and he is having to learn the AP content on his own.”