School Board Meeting Highlights – 9-5-17
In a move that is expected to save the district more than $50,000 per year, LCPS district officials announced that report cards for middle and high school will no longer be mailed to families. Instead, the cards be available online through the district’s web-based program called ParentVUE.
Families that do not have computers or mobile device access can also request a hard copy from their child’s school. Elementary school report cards will continue to be printed and sent home with the students, and all interim notices and attendance letters will still be mailed to parents.
“Given the cost and the volume of reports cards that were returned as undeliverable, it made sense to find a more cost-effective solution for delivering grades,” said LCPS Chief Technology and Research Officer Albert Vega. “The change will only affect middle and high school students, and as always, parents can access grades online through ParentVUE.”
To sign up for ParentVUE, parents first need to visit their child’s school to receive an access code. For security reasons, each school will verify that the person who gets the code is the child’s legal parent or guardian, which is why it requires an in-person visit with identification, officials said.
The first round of report cards in 2017, which are scheduled to be issued at the end of October, will be the first report cards affected by the change.
In addition to being accessible through a web browser, ParentVUE is also available as an app for smart phones. The program also features information about school activities, students’ absences and immunizations.
Previously, the postage costs for mailing the report cards have totaled between $50,000-75,000 per year and thousands of mailed cards were returned as undeliverable. Officials mentioned that the volume of cards being returned lead them to suspect that some students were intercepting their report cards and marking them “return to sender.”
School Staffing Allotments Finalized
Dr. Wendi Miller-Tomlinson, LCPS assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, announced that district officials have reviewed, adjusted and finalized staffing allotments for schools across the district for the 2017-18 school year.
“Our Principals did a good job of estimating class sizes at their schools and developing solutions that worked well for everyone,” Miller-Tomlinson said. “Since our initial staffing estimates were fairly accurate, it helped speed up the process and cut down on the number of changes we had to make this year.”
Based on the school staffing allotment and class size figures, Mesilla Park Elementary and Valley View Elementary each lost one teaching position, and Monte Vista Elementary, Sonoma Elementary, Tombaugh Elementary, Columbia Elementary, East Picacho Elementary and University Hills Elementary each gained one teaching position. A part-time math teaching position at Sierra Middle School was also made into a full-time position, in order to draw a more competitive pool of job applicants.
In addition, four elementary educational assistants were reassigned to kindergarten classrooms within the district. Miller-Tomlinson explained that each kindergarten class is entitled to an educational assistant once the class size reaches 15 students.
Attendance Reporting Data Expanded
LCPS Chief Technology and Research Officer Albert Vega reported on a change in recording student absences. Prior to this year, teachers would record in Synergy only when a student was absent. The new method has teachers recording whether students are present, absent and tardy. This will create better, more complete data, which also can be reviewed by period, by subject, or by teacher. During emergencies, Vega said the school also will have a true representation of who is in the building.
Meanwhile, the PED recently released letter grades for all districts in New Mexico. The findings were discussed with the School Board. Vega compared the 2017 letter grades to last year’s. Dr. Ewing praised him for providing a concise and understandable presentation about how PED assigns grades; however, he reminded the audience that he continues to question the validity of the process. The Superintendent said “we don’t have failing schools.” He said teachers should remain focused on instruction and that test scores are simply used to tailor instruction. He said the data will be used to enhance instruction without shaming students or teachers.
The Superintendent continues to keep the Board informed about any budgetary changes. He is still awaiting word from PED as to whether LCPS will receive the additional $16.00 per student from the state equalization guarantee. If the funds are provided, this would equate to nearly $700,000 for LCPS. On a separate note, a small team from LCPS went to Dallas recently to pitch the district’s financial stability to Moody’s Investors Service, which sets the district’s bond credit rating. The rating is critical and could impact the interest rate of LCPS bonds which are used to pay for capital outlay needs; the Superintendent hopes the current rating of AA3 will remain the same.
Bond Issue Set; Enrollment Remains Level
Deputy Superintendent Gabe Jacquez reported on new data received from Architectural Research Consultants (ARC) which describes what schools need additional classrooms. The data is critical information for the February 2018 school bond issue. Jacquez said the tentative bond amount is $52 million and requests for capital improvements have been made from virtually all schools. He estimates the value of all the requests for the district total more than $200 million. The ARC data also indicated that a new school is not necessary in the upcoming election, but that additional classrooms are.
The Board was also asked about their initial reaction to rezoning some elementary schools. Dr. Ewing indicated that families sometimes do not like to change their attendance boundaries, but that shifts in population and growth on the east side of Las Cruces and on the East Mesa have left some schools more crowded than others. Board President Maria Flores indicated that rezoning is probably needed at this point and that it is cost effective by not having to build more schools. The Superintendent will direct staff to begin rezoning discussions. Officials said that if the Board acts to move forward on changing elementary boundaries, it would be an open process with community and staff input.
Hurricane Harvey Relief Efforts
Jennifer Raess, a clinical social worker with the LCPS special student services department, discussed a proposal to coordinate a districtwide donation drive to help support the Houston Independent School District in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
Students and staff members from Vista Middle School also introduced the student-developed VMS “Pennies for Pets” fundraising campaign. The campaign will collecting donations from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8 to benefit the Texas Humane Society. The idea for the fundraiser was developed by a group of sixth-grade-students at VMS who wanted to support pets displaced as a result of Hurricane Harvey.
As part of the fundraising efforts, the VMS students produced a promotional video for the fundraiser which was shown at the board meeting work session. To watch the promotional video, visit: https://youtu.be/bwZ2OM8QHSY
The fundraiser has a goal of $1,000 and has already collected $441.50, according to Heather Nevarez, a VMS 6th grade math teacher.
Restorative Justice and Ethnic Studies Programs
Andres Armijo, LCPS coordinator of ethnic studies and restorative justice, announced that a pilot restorative justice program has been rolled out at three elementary schools (Sonoma, Booker T. Washington and Valley View), two middle schools (Lynn and Mesilla Valley Leadership Academy), and one high school (CrossRoads).
Restorative Justice is an approach to criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims instead of simply punitive measures for offenders.
Representatives from the pilot program schools will join district officials and community partners to form a task force which will help develop the program into a districtwide initiative.
Armijo also announced that the ethnic studies program will also form a task force to develop ethnic studies content and curriculum. The task force, which will meet monthly, will include two members of the school board, district officials and community members.
Ethnic Studies is interdisciplinary study of race, ethnicity, and indigeneity with a focus on the experiences and perspectives of people of color within and beyond the United States, according to the University of California, Berkeley.
The Board of Education adopted five resolutions to be sent to the New Mexico School Board Association (NMSBA). The resolutions are as follows: Requesting of the New Mexico Legislature to Increase Salaries for Certified Teachers, Request for Adequate Funding to Provide Transportation to Our Students, Encouraging Innovation and Expanding Access to Early Literacy Experiences for 3- and 4-year-old Students Modeled After the Successful K-3 Plus Program, Bullying Prevention and Adoption of Restorative Justice Practices in Public Schools and Requesting the New Mexico Legislature Increase Funding to Public Schools and Provide Adequate Support for Public Schools as Required by Article XII of the New Mexico Constitution.
APECHS and APMA Achievements Continue
Principal Jennifer Amis and teachers from both Arrowhead Park campuses gave the Board an update regarding the schools’ pathways, graduation rate, and partnerships. Amis said the schools have maintained their 95% graduation rate and in May, the first seniors from the Medical Academy will graduate. To-date, APECHS has 387 students, while AMA has 244. There are 64% Hispanics and 52% of the students will be the first in their families to attend college. The school has numerous activities and clubs to help balance the lack of athletic teams. Dean Josh Silver said there are now 13 STEM-related pathways and six medical pathways. There are also non-STEM pathways, leading to Associate Degrees in pre-business and criminal justice.
In May 2017, the school had 101 students earning 139 Associates Degrees, 113 Certifications, and 25 named as NMSU crimson scholars.
Board member Ray Jaramillo inquired ask to whether a pathway could be created for early childhood education. Amis said they do offer classes that are a springboard to earn Bachelor’s Degrees in education and she will get more information if a defined pathway could be created.
Water Quality Testing in the Schools
Deputy Superintendent for Operations Gabe Jacquez discussed the cost and feasibility of water quality testing at school sites across the district. “Currently our utility providers test all of the water entering our school buildings for heavy metals like copper and lead,” Jacquez said. “Since there was no process in place for testing the water after that point, we’re exploring what it would take to test the water quality after it enters the school site.”
Jacquez explained that officials are researching best practices and exploring cost estimates for a proposal that will be presented at a future board meeting.
NEA Focuses on DACA
In the NEA-Las Cruces report to the Board, President Bruce Hartman announced that they support the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students who are now “under siege.” He said staff can’t stay out of immigration issues because this concern focuses on human rights and civil rights. Hartman said they support all kids regardless of where they come from. Separately, Hartman said the district’s professional development committee is working on the October professional development day; however, he said the committee needs teacher and principal representatives. The Superintendent agreed and asked that those stakeholders be added to the committee.
Children’s Reading Alliance
The Children’s Reading Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to improving child literacy in Doña Ana County, discussed the success of its Book Buddies summer program. Throughout the summer, the program provided 9,000 new books to elementary school students enrolled in the K-3 Plus program, an optional early education program that offers kindergarten through third-grade students 25 additional days of classroom instruction, prior to the start of the regular school year.
As part of the Book Buddies program, each participating child got to select and keep a total of four new books over the course of the four-week program. In addition, community volunteers visited schools on a week basis to read to the students, host literacy activities and pass out books. Children’s Reading Alliance President Rorie Measure mentioned that a variety of local businesses and individuals made contributions to purchase the books and volunteered their time to support the program.
“This program was supported by nearly 100 local community members,” Measure said. “Together, we raised the money and did all of this amazing work right here in the community.”
Field of Dreams Renovations Requested
Community leaders who helped create the Field of Dreams approached the Board about upgrades to the 16-year-old facility. Former LCPS Athletics Director Bump Elliott requested that the Wall of Champions, which lists the name of every student and coach on an LCPS state championship team, be brought up to date; 549 names have not been included in recent years due to funding shortfalls. He also noted needed improvements such as painting, signage, parking lot refurbishing, fences, and an overhead sign as an entrance to the complex. Elliott requested the items be added to the requests for the 2018 bond issue. The Superintendent said the items would be forwarded to the bond capital outlay committee for consideration.
For more information, contact LCPS Communications Coordinator Paul Dahlgren, firstname.lastname@example.org, (575) 527-5808.