Sen. Craig Brandt

Sue Cleveland

As much as state Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, is a proponent for education — he’s a former RRPS board member — he has things other than extended learning on his mind.
“They’re looking at the possibility of this bill passing,” he said of Senate Bill 40, requiring “extended learning time programs at all public schools for the 2021-22 school year,” sponsored by state Sen. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque).
“We haven’t got kids in school and we’re talking about extended learning,” Brandt said. “Let’s get them back in school first — for me, the focus has to be get kids back in school.”
Brandt said he’d heard recently that 40 percent of Albuquerque Public Schools seniors won’t graduate, and that its graduation rate could drop below 50 percent.
Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland supports the extended year.
“(There is) an assumption that we don’t make a year’s progress in New Mexico for our kids,” she said. “We actually do, and so if you look at the amount of progress throughout the year, we make a year’s progress.”
“The problem is that so many of our children are so far behind to start with. You make a year’s progress, and they’re always going to be behind. Until we get better pre-K programs, better opportunities to get children caught up on the front end, it’s going to continue to be a problem.
“What we need is a year and a quarter, a year and a half, for our kids to get caught up,” she added. “One of the major discussions, though, is, ‘Does every child need it, or do just some children need it?’
“Do they perceive it as a benefit that we’re trying to give them more learning time? Or do they perceive it as punishment?” she asked. “So it is a rather complicated issue.”
The “clear reality,” Cleveland said, is that “our kids have lost a lot this year and it’s going to take some really hard work to get them caught up.”
Stewart’s bill says “the legislature finds that learning loss during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years due to public school closures and extended periods of remote learning requires an increase in instructional time once it is safe to return to in-person schooling.” Her bill also calls for the appropriation of nearly $140 million for fiscal year 2022 to fund extended learning programs and to fund K-5 plus programs.
In the event RRPS goes to the 192-day calendar, Cleveland said she was concerned about the best way to do it: Parents typically don’t want their children in school in June, but neither do they want to start school in July. Next school year starts Aug. 4 for secondary students.
In the past, she said, “Anytime we went past Memorial Day, nobody came. We would have staff, but we would have no children.”
She said, “We’re gonna have to change our behaviors in the community, one way or another: We’re going to have to shorten up that winter break or we’re going to have to go into June. There’s no other option.
“It’s so hot in July, and it’s hard to keep some of our buildings cool, especially those with swamp coolers,” she said.

Billie Ann Helean

Rio Rancho School Employees Union President Billie Helean said, “RRSEU recognizes the need for districts to have the ability to locally determine how to best serve their students and communities. We support extended learning options, but they must meet the needs of our district and be tailored to our students and educational professionals.”

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Gary Herron | Observer staff writer