RIO RANCHO — This is something new, Rio Rancho Public Schools Executive Director of Human Resources Mike Chavez said at the Nov. 13 meeting of the school board: Teachers resigning their positions after the school year starts.

That’s disheartening, Chavez said, because “back in the day,” that didn’t happen. You start something and you finish it.

“I worry about kids in the classroom and teachers are coming and going,” he said. “I’m not sure what we can do about that. We are working very, very hard on retention models across the district.”

Departing from the district since the 2023-24 school year began in August: 18 teachers, 20 educational assistants, nine custodians, a custodial foreman, five bus drivers, two bus driver trainees, a bus attendant and three nurses.

There was some good news on the hiring front, Chavez said, to the tune of 34 teachers, 39 educational assistants, 11 custodians, a bus driver and six bus driver trainees and three bus attendants, plus one nurse.

There has been extensive advertising for teachers, plus the monthly job fairs at the district offices, where “we have a very good turnout,” he said. “Unfortunately, there still aren’t a lot of teachers being graduated through the universities.”

Chavez said salary, “especially in the lower-paid positions,” is the leading reason for resignations, from questionnaires sent to those retiring, although only about 50% of those are received.

“Bus drivers? It’s a tough job,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of strides with the discipline on buses, but it’s still problematic, and departing bus drivers say it’s too much for them to handle. … Typically, we’re seeing a lot of mostly salary issues and family issues.”

Students’ behavioral issues also extend to the teachers, Superintendent Sue Cleveland said, and often it’s because teachers want to leave the area.

“You won’t ever stop people who want to move closer to their (families’) home, but for those what are leaving for some of these other reasons, there are some things we can do, and we need to continue to work on that,” she said.

As much as some teachers decided they didn’t want to be in school, or at least not teach for RRPS, students’ chronic absenteeism is a bigger problem, especially for students at Cleveland and Rio Rancho High Schools.

Renee Saucedo, the secondary improvement officer, laid out some statistics, including that about 30% are chronically absent, meaning they have missed more than 10 days of school. The good news in this, perhaps, is that chronic absenteeism has dropped since the 2022-23 school year from 28.9% to 14.2% in the elementary schools; 35.3% to 29.3% in the middle schools; and 44.8% to 31.1% in the comprehensive high schools.

Of course, it’s still a problem.

Adding the two schools’ student population of 5,215, Saucedo said, as of Nov. 1, 600 had already missed 15% of their time in school; of those 600, 365 were already failing, she said, and missing 15% or more of the classes means they won’t pass the course. The other 235 — 89 of them were seniors — were passing but still missing more than 15% of class time.

“We know that it’s super-important for our kids to be attending school, and 85% (attendance) … is still a lot of absences,” noted board member Jessica Tyler, who has a daughter attending Cleveland High School. “You know we want to afford everybody every opportunity that they have to be successful.”

All three levels are doing things to motivate students to come to school, from lunch with the principals to snow cones with counselors. Instead of taking punitive actions with those chronically absent, the school staffs are working closely, when possible, with parents, as well as working closer with their students to get to know them better, which can lead to some factors hindering attendance, such as bullying, problems at home, etc.

“I’m hoping people will see the connection between coming to school and getting that (academic) outcome,” Cleveland said. “Because if you don’t come to school, it’s very hard to get that outcome. … We really have clear evidence when they don’t come to school, they don’t learn as much.”

Balancing the school year calendar was also on the agenda, and results of a recent districtwide survey were announced: From all respondents, 50% said RRPS should pursue a balanced calendar, while 34% want to keep the current calendar and 17% were undecided.

RRPS believes academic performance would improve with a balanced calendar, with intercessions important to help students comprehend some subjects, such as algebra. And teachers have noted longer breaks during the school year help them “rejuvenate.”

Broken down, 47% of parents want the balanced calendar, 36% are OK with the way it is; from RRPS employees, 55% want a balanced calendar, 28% are satisfied with the present calendar.

Based on the results, Cleveland said it was a “shocker” to see that suspected problems with child care weren’t a concern for respondents, as the district surmised. Thus, it appears older students, being home during what might be proposed calendar days off, would be charged with tending to younger siblings.

“We really didn’t expect this response, and this was a real surprise to us,” she said.

One of the proposed calendars has the school year starting earlier and ending later, with longer vacations and holidays along the way.

Also, she said, school districts in Albuquerque and Farmington are considering balanced calendars, and thus, this discussion “isn’t unique to us at all.”

Board member Gary Tripp, calling Rio Rancho a “unique community,” said he’d be OK with having a committee look into a proposed school year calendar and if approved, have it take effect in the 2025-26 school year, and Tyler said to be cautious and “not rush into anything.”

In other matters, the board:

  • Approved two contracts for civil engineering, as those services are needed;
  • Approved a contract, allotting $10,000 for Independence High School for it to continue its work on posters, billboards and public service announcements for Sandoval County’s DWI program;
  • Approved an application for reimbursements from the state and U.S. government for the Broadband Deficiencies Correction Program; and
  • Heard first readings for “straightforward changes,” per legal counsel Loren Hatch, in policies 209 (Agendas and Order of Business for Board Meetings) and 214 (Organizational Meeting, which deals with restructuring the board once new members are sworn-in and turning those then-elected board officers into two-year rather than the current one-year terms).

The board meets again at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 27.