Principal: eCigs are epidemic at CHS

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — An eCigarette epidemic, school evaluations and truancy were among the subjects principals told the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education about Monday afternoon.

The board and Superintendent Sue Cleveland heard from eight elementary school principals and the “leadoff hitter,” Cleveland High School Principal Scott Affentranger. One week earlier, the board had heard updates from the district’s other schools and the Secondary learning Center.

Cleveland High School: Affentranger said he had somewhere between 800 and 900 eCigs confiscated from CHS students in the 2018-19 school year.

Additionally, he noted, 10-12 students had to be transported to area hospitals after ingesting what is believed to be THC, the compound in marijuana that causes a high, in the eCigs. School security was notified to start a search for the eCig that caused the harm — so another student didn’t get it and compound the problem.

“The biggest problem is the THC that’s inside the eCig,” Affentranger said. “I do think it’s an epidemic.”

There was also good news from the CHS hallways: Another Merit Scholarship winner, the best graduation rate in the state among Class 5A schools, more state championships in sports, a comprehensive tutoring program that affords as many as 200 students a day a chance to catch up or better understand a subject during the lunch hour and CHS possibly winning its fourth Director’s Cup in five years.

“We’ve had a pretty successful opening decade,” Affentranger said of the school that opened in 2009.

But drug possession and drug distribution are also a problem there, he said, with CHS seeing “more prescription meds than anything else,” and those are easy to obtain and distribute.

Also, during a vehicle search on campus, he said a hospital-sized container of deadly fentanyl had been confiscated. Plus, behavioral episodes are on the rise; Affentranger said he’d like to see better attention paid to “threat assessment.”

“The building needs to be conducive to learning,” he said, and students feeling safe is the best way to achieve that.

“(Behavioral episodes) used to be few and far between; now they’re pretty frightening,” he said, telling the board, “We need a behavior center — (and) we need the ability to move students off campus immediately.”

Affentranger said his building could use more classroom space, with more than 2,600 students expected there in 2019-20. With another 2,500 new homes being built in the area in the near future, his school will be bursting at the seams.

“These are some things we need to jump on,” board member Ramon Montaño said. “Overcrowding and how we’re going to deal with it and the behavioral piece (and eCigs). There’s too much focus on achievement — we can’t wait for the state (to take action).”

Cielo Azul Elementary: Not satisfied with a “C” grade, Principal Alicia Barnes reported, “Our kids grow, grow, grow like crazy — they’re just not hitting the proficiency.”

In her fifth year at Cielo Azul, Barnes said the school observed “more growth in the second semester than the first.” She said part of the reason for its deficiencies may be the “super-high turnover of third-grade teachers” and some new kindergarten teachers.

“Truancy is a challenge,” Barnes said, noting one student who had amassed enough days of being absent to account for a full trimester.

Colinas del Norte Elementary: Principal Laura Branning said her school is “on a journey of improvement, (but) we still have a long way to go. … Similar to Cielo Azul, we’re struggling.”

She said the school has noted “solid growth” in math for kindergarteners and third- and fifth-graders, and the school has three reading interventionists and one math interventionist. Fortunately, she said, there hasn’t been much turnover on the staff and she was proud of community involvement in school activities.

But, she added, more than 200 students missed at least three days of school.

Enchanted Hills Elementary: Principal Cathy Baehr, who retired at the end of the school year, was happy her school’s last grade was an “A,” but said it had “a huge amount of reading challenges.”

The school is overcrowded, she said, with 764 students.

And like the majority of RRPS buildings, behavioral issues are also a problem.

Ernest Stapleton Elementary: Principal Cheryl Clark said her school’s latest grade, a “C,” was a drop that led her to “re-examine what we were doing.”

So professional development was a target, in light of the school’s “shortage of highly qualified teachers.” Clark said she was pleased with the math grades but concerned with reading.

Maggie Cordova Elementary: Principal Stephanie Nieto said her school’s “D” grade reflected a downward trend and wondered “what caused it?”

The staff decided to guide instruction based on assessment, she said, and re-establish the school’s culture – for students to be positive, responsible, respectful and safe.

But the school’s students in fourth and fifth grades are struggling in math, while in reading, “Some of our grade levels are missing the mark, especially fourth.”

In 2019-20, for the first time in memory, she said, the school will have its principal, assistant principal and instructional leader back for a second year in a row.

Consistency at the top is important, she said, quipping, “That D is for determination.”

Fortunately, she said, the school has seen an improvement in behavior and tripled its community involvement.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary: Principal Jessica Kettler, just finishing her first year at the helm, was pleased with her school’s fourth consecutive “A,” which she attributed to an “incredibly dedicated and hard-working” staff.

Although MLK fourth-graders under-performed in math and reading, she said, students in kindergarten, third and fourth grades met or exceeded proficiency.

The school lacked a math interventionist, Kettler said, but had two reading interventionists as well as before- and after-school tutoring available from teachers: “I don’t have to ask much of them because they just do it.”

The largest elementary school in the city, with 950 students, is also fortunate to have a very involved community, she said.

Puesta del Sol Elementary: First-year Principal Dana Petro said she and her new assistant principal, Tasha Young, had “a challenging year as new administrators,” and the school’s “C” grade was less than one point away from being a “B.”

“Puesta’s doing great with our high-performing students,” she said, planning to focus on strategies for the classrooms and “examining students’ work regularly.”

The school’s three lowest grades (K, 1 and 2) “exceeded expectations in math, and third grade met its expectation. … Ten percent of our students are moving in the right direction.”

PdS has three reading interventionists, one math interventionist and a bilingual program at each grade level. It has good community involvement, she added, but “needs a makeover,” especially with new furniture, a kindergarten playground and paint.

Truancy is also a problem: “53 percent had 10 or more absences,” Petro said.

She said she wanted to add a library in which the students’ parents can check out books.

Cleveland said, “Reading is disappearing from adults … It doesn’t bode well for the future of our children.”

Rio Rancho Elementary: Also unhappy with a “C” grade for her school, Principal Sarah Poutsch said she discovered “teachers and students weren’t working hard to get to the next level,” and she was adding an instructional coach “to show teachers what to do to move instruction forward.”

Her school had also recorded a large turnover in staff, although she expected the bulk of the 2018-19 staff back at the school in August.

The school had fourth-graders lagging in math, she said, so the school “moved resources around and got help from interventionists. … Fifth-grade teachers closed that gap.”

Rio Rancho Elementary has a new assistant principal: Maurice Ross, a former Eagle Ridge Middle School principal and Enchanted Hills assistant principal, resigned his position as executive director of transportation to get back into a school.

Ross told the Observer he was tired of working 12- to 14-hour days for the last eight years.

The district has posted the vacancy.