School board members, from left, Amanda Galbraith, Noreen Scott and Catherine Cullen take part in their first in-person session since March 2020. Board member Wynne Coleman was also present, while board member Jeffery Morgan was absent and Superintendent Sue Cleveland participated virtually. The meeting was not open to anyone else, but streamed online. Courtesy photo.

Although the nation is seemingly winning its war vs. COVID-19, parents in Rio Rancho Public Schools will still have the option of keeping their kids in a virtual-learning format for the 2021-22 school year — and probably well beyond.
What society had in 2019, RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland said at the three-hour April 12 school board meeting, is “not the reality we’re looking at,” and it’s important for the district to have educational options to keep parents in the district.
Parents and/or students will have the option of staying home or returning to the classrooms full-time, with virtual headquarters for elementary students shifting to Joe Harris Elementary and secondary virtual-only learning originating at Cyber Academy, where its current enrollment of 160 students could possibly expand by another 700.
Organizers for the K-5 “new distance-learning academy” managed to get the city’s initials in its title: SpaRRk Academy. It’s to be a quality elementary school option for families who have experienced success via remote learning and wish to continue.
Email sparrkacademy@rrps.net for more information.
A recent survey verified the district’s belief that many parents would favor a virtual-only option for next year. More information on the “new” schools will be available Tuesday at the Parent University session at 5:30 p.m. at rrps.net.
Cleveland noted that an estimated 500 or so students in the district are being home-schooled, and this virtual option, based on how it’s run this school year, will be an option for them, too.
Staffing will be key to the coming school year, but teachers won’t be teaching virtual as well as in-person students in 2021-22.
It was said if secondary virtual enrollment surpasses current estimates, Cyber Academy won’t be large enough to handle the additional teachers and administrators. But Chief Academic Officer Carl Leppelman said, “We don’t think 700-some students will want it,” and estimated the influx of new secondary students will be in the range of 350-400 students.
Extracurricular activities — athletics, band, drama, JROTC, etc. — will still be available for secondary virtual students, who can participate for the school in whose district they reside.
“I think it’s gonna be a permanent fixture,” Cleveland said of the virtual model, adding the state has mandated such an option.
With board member Jeffery Morgan absent, the board approved on a 4-0 vote the “addition” of virtual elementary and secondary schools for 2021-22.
Parents are asked to apply, and to be sure which option they want for their students soon — a lot of planning and scheduling goes into this, depending on school enrollment. More teachers will need to be hired, probably 12-15 at the Cyber Academy.
In other matters, the board:
• Commended the Instructional Technology and Education specialists, led by Paul Romero, for the incredible job during the pandemic;
• Heard Kurt Schmidt, executive director of Fine Arts, report that RRPS has been honored for the third year in a row as one of the “Best Communities for Music Education”;
• Approved English Language Arts and World Languages instructional materials for grades 9-12; and
• Nominated Allison Sego of Independence High to be considered for the New Mexico School Board Association’s annual scholarship; also considered were Adam Rounsville (Cleveland High), Natasha Erin Garcia (Cyber Academy) and Yuttichai Sommala (Rio Rancho High).
The board’s next meeting, also in-person and streamed online, is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. April 26.

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Gary Herron | Observer staff writer