‘Straight A Express’ tour makes stop in Rio Rancho

Mountain View Middle School principal Julie Arnold, left, and New Mexico Public Education Department secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski celebrate the Rio Rancho school’s A grade for 2017 on Wednesday. (Kim Burgess/Albuquerque Journal)

The New Mexico Public Education Department’s “Straight A Express” tour made a stop in Rio Rancho Wednesday to celebrate the district’s five A schools.

Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski met with Superintendent Sue Cleveland, district administrators and principals at Rio Rancho Middle School, which has earned two A’s in a row.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Mountain View Middle School, Rio Rancho Cyber Academy and Cleveland High School also received top grades for 2017.

“Rio Rancho is a lighthouse district,” Ruszkowski said. “Other districts talk about Rio Rancho.”

Overall, 28 percent of RRPS schools earned an A this year – the same percentage as 2016, according to results released by PED in August. Bs rose from 28 percent in 2016 to 44 percent this year, while Cs declined from 33 percent to 22 percent. Only one school earned a D this year: Rio Rancho Elementary. The district has never gotten an F.

Statewide, 16 percent of public schools received Fs, up from 13 percent in 2016. The number of A rated schools held steady at 14 percent.

Mountain View Middle School principal Julie Arnold, left, and New Mexico Public Education Department secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski celebrate the Rio Rancho school’s A grade for 2017 on Wednesday. (Kim Burgess/Albuquerque Journal)

During the past month, Ruszkowski has visited dozens of high-performing schools across the state. He is about halfway through the 60-stop tour.

On Wednesday, principals and staff from Rio Rancho’s five A schools discussed their best practices and concerns with Ruszkowski.

Julie Arnold, Mountain View Middle School principal, said her teachers are talented and committed, but also noted that math and science teaching positions are tough to fill.

“It’s the lack of people wanting to go into education in this day and age,” she said.

Other school administrators said they worry that teachers don’t feel as respected or appreciated.

Matt George, Cleveland High social studies instructional leader, said he thinks the state’s teacher evaluation system can be demoralizing and difficult to understand.

The conversation also touched on the PARCC testing schedule and technology needs in the district.

“We appreciate you listening,” Cleveland told Ruszkowski.

Ruszkowski said he takes district feedback seriously and wants to tackle educational challenges, but also celebrate progress.

“I know we push you,” Ruszkowski said. “We push you because we need you to keep setting the pace for New Mexico.”

He complimented Rio Rancho Public Schools’ “pioneering spirit” and stable leadership. Cleveland has been superintendent since the district launched 24 years ago.

“You are holding the bar higher,” Ruszkowski said. “It doesn’t happen without visionary leadership.”

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