The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education gained one of its two new members and the district drew closer to getting a new Career Technical Education building Nov. 15.

Retired 13th Judicial District Judge Louis McDonald, far left, swears in new Rio Rancho Public Schools board member Gary Tripp as Tripp’s wife, Jeannette, looks on Monday at the school board meeting. Courtesy of RRPS.

Newly elected board member Gary Tripp was officially sworn in to the District 1 seat by retired District Judge Louis McDonald during that meeting.

The district received the OK for that move from the New Mexico Public Education Department, which mandates that a board vacancy be filled within 45 days; the former District 1 representative, Wynne Coleman, opted not to run for re-election and resigned in October.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have him,” board member Noreen Scott said, while board President Amanda Galbraith chuckled as she recalled Tripp being her principal at Rio Rancho High School when she graduated (2000).

Another new board member, Jessica Tyler, will be sworn in this January to replace another current member, Catherine Cullen, who decided not to run for re-election after two terms. District 3 representative Jeffery Morgan ran unopposed for re-election and thus keeps his board seat.

The board heard what Superintendent Sue Cleveland termed “a major presentation” by Chief Academic Officer Carl Leppelman about the revised plans for Career Technical Education (CTE); it included input from a long-term committee.

The eventual success of CTE programs, Cleveland said, will help the current shortage of skilled workers in the metro area, but, “we’re going to have to sell that” concept in Santa Fe.

Particularly “disturbing,” she said, may be that the labor shortage is worsening: 77 percent of trades people view it as a problem, compared to 71 percent a year ago. Also, skilled tradespeople are aging, with their current median age of 43 roughly 10 percent older than the general population — and 27 percent are within 10 years of the Social Security retirement age of 62.

Now, there are 20 CTE programs in Rio Rancho’s high schools, serving 2,400 RRPS students, and four middle school programs, with 920 students involved.

Mentioned as possible future offering are carpentry, architecture and construction, and numerous health sciences courses, with each program enhanced through sequencing, adding to multiple career choices. Partnerships with area builders, medical providers, etc., are essential in filling job vacancies with students who have gone in those directions through high school and college — a current dual-credit partnership with Central New Mexico Community College notwithstanding.

Soon, should the appraisal of the building that once housed Victoria’s Secret and Alliance Data call centers and the acreage it sits on meet or be less than the agreed-upon purchase price, the district will have a centralized CTE site.

Chief Operating Officer Mike Baker told of two purchase agreements, soon voted upon by the board, 5-0 – for the 74,000-square-foot building that “lends itself very nicely for renovation” as a “state-of-the-art CTE center.”

The net price of the building would be just over $12.5 million; the 10.5-acre parcel will cost almost $1.3 million.

Cleveland termed it “an incredible opportunity,” as the building is in “incredible shape.”

In other matters:

  • The board heard an update on what lobbyist Cris Balzano, of Balzano Government Relations, foresees at the 2022 state legislative session.
  • Cleveland gave an update on an accreditation team’s virtual visit, coming up in February, noting it’s two-fold: a framework for school improvement and to check on the district’s “journey,” as it relates to reaching standards of performance and following its strategic plan to measure progress there. Earlier Monday, the board heard a preview of the accreditation process in a workshop.
  • The board commended the Cleveland and Rio Rancho high school marching bands for laurels they received in recent band competitions; Colinas del Norte art teacher Donna Barnitz for being named the New Mexico Art Education Association’s Elementary Art Teacher of the Year; and a trio of State Fair art exhibitors from RRPS: Jacinto Sanchez (CHS senior, first place in his division), Alani Julian (Lincoln Middle School seventh-grader, second place in her division) and Pamela Elam (LMS teacher, honorable mention in Hispanic Arts).
  • Board members also OK’d a resolution declaring the 2021-22 school year as the Year of Literacy. It reads that the RRPS Board of Education “encourages families and citizens in Rio Rancho to support their local schools’ literacy incentives by reading to their children, making books and other reading materials readily available in their homes and modeling high-quality reading and writing skills in their homes and workplaces.”

The board’s next meeting is set for Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m. It is expected to be “live,” as was the Nov. 15 meeting, which had about 20 spectators seated inside the board room and a handful of others outside the meeting room.

About the author

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer