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RRPS ‘ready to go back to school’

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Don’t want to send your kids to school next month?

Rio Rancho Public Schools main office.
(File photo/ Rio Rancho Observer)

No problem: Rio Rancho Public Schools is prepared to let parents keep their kids at home during this unprecedented pandemic – but if they decide on virtual learning, students will be mandated to stay there for an entire semester.

The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education, with member Wynne Coleman absent for almost the first two hours of the nearly five-hour virtual meeting Monday, listened during the myriad re-entry presentations.

All participating understood that Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s Public Education Department may alter the plans. RRPS has two options now:

  • Option 1 is a hybrid option where students in grades K-3 will attend school full days on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; students in grades 4-12 will attend school two days a week and continue with learning at home three days a week.
  • Option 2 is 100 percent virtual – kids won’t be in school. Parents and students choosing this form of learning must remain with that platform for the first semester, and aren’t allowed to return to the classrooms.

Students in grades K-5 will utilize Google Meet and other virtual applications, and students in grades 6-12 will utilize Edgenuity, used for years at Rio Rancho Cyber Academy with successful results compared to other schools. The RRPS curriculum and instructional materials of the past remain in place.

Students heading to the brand-new Shining Stars Preschool campus will probably follow the same schedule as in the past: going to school Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; Principal Kim Johns has been working hard to make social distancing work there and has a virtual plan for those 3- and 4-year-olds.

All schools will be closed on Wednesdays for deep cleaning.

Students will wear masks on the bus and in the classrooms, and teachers will be masked or wearing face shields. Social-distancing is a must, as is frequent hand-washing, with sanitizers available on campuses.

There will be a rapid response team to respond to possible COVID-19 cases, as well as “care rooms” at every campus, where possibly-infected students will be placed until further diagnosis and notification of their parents. Parents will be advised to check their students’ temperatures – 100 degrees or higher should send up a red flag and keep that student at home — before they head to school.

Bus riders will have their temperatures taken, as will students entering buildings via other modes of transportation.

“We are ready to go back to school … we’re ready for it,” said LaJuana Coleman, executive director of secondary curriculum and instruction. “I am confident in that we’ve got good plans in place.”

Added Cleveland, “We are excited and really want children back in school.”

The first day of school for middle school and high school students is Friday, Aug. 7, while elementary students return Tuesday, Aug. 11. But, it was noted, not only might those start dates change, but the first day of school could be after Labor Day, Sept. 7.

The last day of school will be June 7 – or maybe later. An additional 10 days of instruction were added to this year’s calendar, in light of the 2019-20 school year’s closing in March due to the pandemic.

Thus, if RRPS students don’t return to school until, say, Sept. 8, the final day of school could be in late June.

Parents must decide if they want the virtual or blended platform; decide if they want their kids to ride the bus, when applicable, or drive them to school, which affects the transportation department’s route planning; and monitor their blended students’ learning process when they’re not on campus.

One thing that’s clear, despite all the questions that still need answers, is that parents will need to play a bigger role in their students’ education than ever before.

“Parents being available, especially for the youngest (students) – we really need to listen to our families and see what works for them,” said Janna Chenault, elementary school improvement officer.

Board member Noreen Scott wondered if RRPS was stooping to the lowest-common denominator, rather than being a leader in education.

Cleveland said not only is high-achieving Los Alamos Public Schools using a similar two-option mode of education, but so are schools throughout the state and the U.S.

Students on the hybrid version will be in contact with their teachers on the two days they’re on campus. They’ll also know ahead of time what they’ll be learning, with teachers giving more attention priority to the more-important topics.

Every student will have access to Chromebooks, although students in grades K-5 won’t be able to take them home.

Once the district has discovered the breakdown of hybrid and virtual students, a schedule will be worked out. That lengthy process will begin soon.

Also, specific plans for transportation and special education are pending, and should be presented to the board at its next virtual meeting, July 27 at 5:30 p.m. Cleveland said a meeting might need to be held this week, which could include the board’s action on a legal issue.

“We’re ready to hit the ground running,” assured Beth Pendergrass, chief communications officer, reiterating the extensive communication plans being laid. “We hope that our parents hang in there.”

Much more information may be found at rrps.net/schoolreentryupdates.

In other matters, the board:

  • Approved the calendar in a 3-2 vote for the 192-instructional-day school year of 2020-21. Board members acknowledged it could be subject to change;
  • Approved the ratified negotiated agreement between RRPS and the Rio Rancho School Employees Union;
  • Approved raises of 1 percent for teachers and administrators, and a 2 percent raise for bus drivers, custodians and education assistants;
  • OK’d the extension of a lease with Sodexo America (food services); and

Approved the end-of-year evaluation of Cleveland, which had been discussed in executive session.

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