Sue Cleveland

A four-hour virtual meeting Monday evening gave Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education members time to state their disappointment and frustration in light of the state Department of Health for canceling a mass vaccination opportunity Jan. 22-23.

With the event, 1,800 people connected with schools in Rio Rancho and Bernalillo were anticipating receiving their first doses.

In her opening comments, Superintendent Sue Cleveland said UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center had confirmed its supply would be adequate for those expecting their first shots, and, “We jumped at that opportunity. … Every single slot was full.”

When the DOH told the district Jan. 21 that the event could not take place, Cleveland said, “We knew it would be demoralizing to staff who believed they would get vaccinated.

“There was a lot of consternation,” she said.

In the final hour of the meeting, board members directed Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer Beth Pendergrass to draft a resolution expressing their disappointment and asking for scheduling of another mass vaccination opportunity.

Doing so, board member Noreen Scott said, would demonstrate that “this community stands as one in support of education and in support of our teachers. … We’re not going to move education forward if we don’t have our students in the classroom.”

“They pulled the plug and it’s very irresponsible,” added board member Catherine Cullen. “We were one of the leaders in in-person learning.”

Literacy plan

The board also heard reports from Chief Academics Officer Carl Leppelman on a new structured literacy plan and a national pilot program being started by RRPS, the “Handle with Care Program.”

Getting back to two of the “three Rs,” reading and writing, is the aim of the project he described.

“(We need to) get students to read proficiently by the end of third grade,” he said.

Leppelman said it was noticed in 2017 that the curriculum the district adopted “really did not have enough basic building blocks of reading foundational skills.” An adjunct professor from the University of Texas-El Paso was brought in “train our (reading) coaches and then have them train other teachers.”

One important fact, Leppelman said, is, “If a student is not proficient by the end of third grade, he or she is four times more likely to drop out of high school than a student that’s proficient — and that is something that is a moral imperative for us when we must make sure that all students are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.”

“Structured literacy is good for all students,” he added.

The Handle with Care program will begin at Colinas del Norte and Puesta del Sol elementary schools, Lincoln Middle School and Rio Rancho High School, said Tonna Burgos, executive director of student services, and involve Rio Rancho Police Department, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, the state Children, Youth and Families Department, and the UNM Health Sciences Rio Rancho campus.

The aim of the program is to help students experiencing trauma continue learning.

“Anytime there’s a coordinated approach in a community, we all get stronger,” Scott said.

Burgos said the program will run March through May on a trial basis.

Other business

In other matters, the board:

  • Thanked Target for donating close to $2,500 worth of excess inventory, school spirit T-shirts, shorts and sweatshirts to Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools;
  • Changed the 2020-21 school year calendar, adding Tuesday, Feb. 16, and Monday, April 5 — originally “vacation” days — as attendance days and ending the school year on Thursday, June 3, instead of Monday, June 6;
  • Heard the audit report from Accounting & Financial Solutions in Farmington. “I feel it was a wonderful audit,” said district Executive Director of Finance Arlene Manzanares. The audit was clean, except for one finding, which Cleveland said she would ask for a clarification on, and direct her appeal to the state auditor; and
  • Heard an explanation from Executive Director of Athletics Larry Chavez about the New Mexico Activities Association pushing the start of football practice from Feb. 1 to Feb. 15. Cleveland emphasized that now, only workouts are allowed to take place — no team practices or games — and they must be held before or after the school day.

The next virtual, regular board meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 8.

Cleveland honored by NMEA

Also last week, Cleveland was honored by the New Mexico Music Educators Association as the “Administrator of the Year,” following her nomination by the music educators within RRPS.

This award is given annually by the NMEA to an outstanding school administrator who has demonstrated support for and commitment to high-quality music education programs in their school(s).

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer