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Editorial: 30 years later, Rio Rancho shows school change works

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After 10 years of political groundwork and 20 years of building a school district from the ground up, Rio Rancho Public Schools has a lot to be proud of.

Renovated campuses. New campuses. A preschool, 10 elementary, four middle and four full/alternative high schools. Fewer portables. Online courses. Dual-credit enrollment. A student body that has almost tripled to just over 17,000. Impressive graduation rates – 84 percent in 2013 – and student proficiency scores above the state average in math, reading and science.

Not bad for a district that quite literally didn’t have a pot to make macaroni and cheese in when classes started in 1994.

School board president Carl Harper, who also served on the district’s first board, recalls “it was a daunting task to create a functioning district. (Albuquerque Public Schools) had written off this area and was not investing in it.”

Rio Rancho has proven it was more than up to the challenge. Its track record gives credence to the concern APS is just too big, at more than 80,000 students, and it begs the question why such a grass-roots success story would be so very threatened by a single charter school seeking a home within its boundaries.

Sue Cleveland, the only superintendent the district has known, told staff at a recent back-to-school meeting, “I’m proud to be from New Mexico and I’m passionate about the Rio Rancho school district. I urge us all to continue supporting public education.”

Ditto for the can-do attitude that made RRPS a reality for 17,150 students and their families.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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