American Federation of Teachers national President Randi Weingarten, center, speaks about schools reopening Thursday afternoon at Independence High School. She’s flanked by Rio Rancho School Employees Union President Billie Helean, left, and RRSEU Executive Vice President Gino Satriana. Argen Marie Duncan photo.

Teachers union leaders assured parents Thursday that they and Rio Rancho Public Schools management have worked together to make in-person learning safe and welcoming.
During a press conference after school Thursday at Independence High School, American Federation of Teachers national President Randi Weingarten, making her second visit to Rio Rancho this year, along with Rio Rancho School Employees Union President Billie Helean and RRSEU Executive Vice President Gino Satriana, said the union and RRPS have partnered to make local schools healthy places to learn in person.
“We are reopening our schools full-time because we know our kids need it,” said Weingarten, who teaches high school in New York when she’s not serving as AFT president. “But we also know they need to be safe.”
When she visited in April, Weingarten said, she saw RRPS took learning, safety, and social and emotional wellbeing seriously. The district is leading the way for safe reopening of in-person learning, she said.
She later said adults in the public-school community have done everything they can to minimize risk, and schools are 100 percent open.
AFT provided 65 grants across the nation, totaling $5 million and affecting 20 million students, to help districts reopen, Weingarten said. RRPS received $25,000, which it used for a phone bank to contact the 900 families who had previously been part of the district but didn’t enroll their children last year.
Helean said district representatives called families to be sure it was OK to make in-person visits, and if they received permission, went by homes and dropped off informational door hangers. About a week after school has started, school employees will call families whose children haven’t attended.
Satriana thanked AFT for the grant and RRPS Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer Beth Pendergrass for her work in designing the outreach program.
“It was a collaborative effort” between the union and district, he said.
Helean also praised the cooperation.
“Our partnership with the district has led us forward in ways we wouldn’t have even thought possible,” she said.
She said she can’t wait to see her first-grade students at Stapleton Elementary on Monday, and families seem ready to go back to school to see teachers and friends.
“In-person learning works best,” she said.