In light of the fiscal enormity – an average of $11,327 spent per student at the SpaRRk Academy, housed at Joe Harris Elementary – and declining enrollment, the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education voted 4-1 Monday evening to close the K-5 virtual school.

The virtual option way of learning was offered in the district’s response to the 2020 pandemic, in time for the 2020-21 school year, in which students participated in direct instruction with dedicated elementary teachers including ELA, math, science and related arts with weekly in-person activities for students.

The online option proved worthwhile for some – but not enough — families who enjoyed the flexibility of online learning, wanted to be an active part of their children’s education and valued the importance of building teamwork and social skills through those in-person learning opportunities for students.

Janna Chenault, elementary school improvement officer, went over details for the schools, which has an enrollment of 87 students in 2022-23, but with an expected enrollment of “60-some,” per Chenault, in 2023-24, for which she based her figures on departing fifth graders and anticipated incoming kindergarteners.

“It’s not going in the right direction,” Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, referring to enrollment. “That’s not to say it wouldn’t (increase) over time. It’s substantially more expensive than what we’re spending on other students in the district.”

While the district’s cost per student for SpaRRK is more than $11,320, the average cost for a non-SpaRRk student is $8,511 .

“Hard decisions sometimes have to be made,” Cleveland said, and with that, the board voted 4-1 – Noreen Scott voted to keep it open – to end the school’s run.

School calendar for 2023-24 reviewed

Although nothing is final for next year’s school calendar, which could depend on what the state Legislature does – namely in terms of extending school days or daily hours – the board took a preliminary look at it.

It is aligned with APS’s tentative calendar, which usually placates parents of RRPS students.

The first day of school for elementary students would be Aug. 7, with secondary students returning Aug. 3, following the popular “jump start” days for sixth graders and high school freshmen prior to that.

The winter break would start Dec. 23 – Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Mondays – with students returning to the classrooms on Jan. 10. Wednesdays are expected to remain as early release days in the district.

May 24 would be the last day of classes.

“We’re looking at some calendar options – absolutely no decision has been made,” Cleveland said. “As soon as we know (when it’s final), we will get that information out.

“Many key issues are still to be decided that will have a profound impact on our district,” she said, referring to the budget for public education and the length of the school year, calculated in terms of hours or days, as well as how many days will be for direct instruction and how many for teachers’  professional development.

Also to be decided, she said, are graduation requirements: “Reduced or not, or left up to individual districts? Or a state decision?”

No matter how those are decided, Cleveland said, they won’t affect the current Class of 2023.

Dozens of fine arts students feted for music

Fine Arts Executive Director Kurt Schmidt lauded nearly 100 middle and high school students who fared well at the recent state music festival at the University of New Mexico.

Schmidt said the students’ “talent, work ethic and dedication” resulted in the mass recognition, with dozens of the awarded students showing up and named at the board meeting, then somehow organizing themselves for a photo opp.

Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah

The board voted 4-1, with Gary Tripp the negative voter, to select Wizer Electric of Rio Rancho to do the renovations for the kitchen area at Rio Rancho High School, basically the same facility the school worked with when it opened in 1997.

Tripp said he didn’t remember seeing the project’s cost — yet to be determined and disclosed after contract negotiations are complete, expected to be done by March 5 — among the Facility’s Department’s master plan, which was recently revealed.

Nominees for excellence

Three people were nominated for New Mexico School Board Association student achievement awards, one of which came from Scott.

RRPS Administrator Suzanne Nguyen-Wisneski, Jeannie Springer-Knight and Richard Draper – Scott’s pick —were lauded for their contributions to education in Rio Rancho.

Nguyen-Wisneski is the executive director of the federal, bilingual and Native American programs for RRPS and an advocate for indigenous students and programs.

Springer-Knight, of the Unser Gateway project, had a role in the district locating Joe Harris Elementary in Unit 10. She’s also an advocate for CTE here, and “an unpaid ambassador for RRPS,” Cleveland added.

Draper, a former Intel New Mexico manager, has long been an advocate for a seamless school-to-work education pipeline to compete for jobs and keep them in Rio Rancho.

“He’s a great nominee,” Cleveland said after Scott’s recommendation. “He has worked for us close to 25 years.”
The school board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. March 13.