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RRPS struggles with virtual attendance

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Just how much learning is taking place in this year of the pandemic in Rio Rancho Public Schools?

That was among the topics at the RRPS Board of Education’s three-hour meeting Oct. 12. Superintendent Sue Cleveland had the dire message that she’d read in one of her professional journals, “This will be the largest learning loss since the Great Depression.”

Close to 400 high school seniors took the SAT two days later — nine in a “pod,” with one proctor — and all in-person.

Rio Rancho Public Schools

Those results won’t be known for a while, but Happy Miller, the district’s executive director of research, assessment, data and accountability, told the board she was concerned about how students would fare in the assessments coming up.

In her research, Miller said, she’d found early scores for students in grades 1-3 were similar to the past two years, and 38 percent of kindergartners were proficient this September, compared to 21 percent a year earlier.

But, she noticed, the “drops” appeared larger in math than reading. Although more students had larger gains in those subjects, there also were larger drops by more students in both.

Renee Saucedo, the secondary school improvement officer, went over issues with attendance, saying, “This is just such a unique time, and we’re asking students who are 11 or 14 or 17 — it doesn’t matter — to develop their time-management skills that are very difficult for a lot of adults. And so we want you to make sure you’re supposed to be in school for 6½ hours a day and you need to be working and that’s not an easy thing to do … We’re just seeing a lot of different situations and we don’t necessarily know how we’re going to treat that.”

The state Public Education Department requires schools to take attendance every day, and the district will have to figure out a better way to do that, Saucedo said.

Carl Leppelman, chief academic officer, said the biggest challenge in recording attendance is having students answer the attendance question on Google Meet during virtual sessions. Students could be present, but without answering the question, they are counted absent.

In the Edgenuity platform used in the middle schools, he said, “Are we measuring attendance or actual progress on that system? We settled on we’re going to measure attendance.”

Teachers can readily see if the student is behind, on track or ahead.

Cleveland remained optimistic.

“I think we’ll come up with a whole different approach in terms of how we take attendance and how we account for students’ learning,” she said. “… Signing on and coming every day and working is a hard thing to do for some of our students because this is, again, a new environment for them as well. They’re having to learn to manage their time differently, (and) having to learn a lot of new skills. So I think it’s getting better.”

In other items, the board:

• Heard the final report from Erik Harrigan, of RBC Capital Markets, who said $15 million in bonds were sold in September, garnering a nearly all-time low for bond sales here of not quite 1.5 percent interest;

• Listened to the update on the renovations of the Student Services Building at 481 NM 528, including the company chosen for the work, Franken Construction Co. Inc. The building will cost $1.22 million and is expected to be completed in the spring.

It’s meant to provide a sheltered learning environment for at-risk students suspended from RRPS middle and high schools. In addition to academics, the Student Support Center will provide counseling related to substance abuse, anger management and other areas for students.

• Heard the report on the before- and after-school SAFE program from Tonna Burgos, director of student services. SAFE serves more than 1,100 elementary students. A 10 percent decrease in enrollment, due to the number of online learners, is expected for 2020-21. Rates will go up to keep it self-sustaining, Burgos said. Cleveland said the program has always been in the black; and

• OK’d after the second reading the state-mandated COVID-19 policy (750).

The board’s next virtual meeting is slated for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26.

RRPS enrollment down more than 700

RRPS enrollment has officially declined.

According to the 40-day enrollment count required by the state Public Education Department, enrollment within RRPS on Oct. 14 was 16,830, said Melissa Perez, RRPS communications manager.

In the 40-day count a year ago, RRPS had 17,542 students. The decrease in enrollment, 712, is likely due to the number of parents home-schooling their youngsters.

Larger enrollment means more dollars to the district.

Think New Mexico has a suggestion

The just-released magazine from Think New Mexico, a think tank, deals mostly with predatory lending in the state.

The magazine, hoping to combat such harmful practices, suggests strengthening financial literacy. New Mexico is ranked 47th in the nation in overall financial literacy, per wallethub.com.

“We do have a financial literacy course at the high school level, and it is offered as an elective,” Perez said.

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