RIO RANCHO, N.M. — What’s the best way to celebrate 20 years in business as one of the premier school districts in New Mexico?
For Rio Rancho Public Schools, which became a reality in 1994, it’s by holding a convocation and celebration at Santa Ana Star Center to thank the community for its continued support of RRPS students and staff.
The free event is Monday from 1-3 p.m. at the Star Center, and it’s touted as “a walk through memory lane” featuring a video highlighting memorable and historic events of the past two decades, and even entertainment by the RRPS staff choir.
How did it all begin?
On July 8, 1993, the state Department of Education formally approved the creation of the Rio Rancho school district and appointed an interim school board, consisting of Barbara Harris, Karla Walker and Robert Fuentes.
That meeting was held at Bernalillo High School, where some Rio Rancho residents had been sending their children for their education, one of three high schools — Cibola and Del Norte were the others — being attended by Rio Ranchoans.
The headline in the July 14, 1993, issue of the Observer said it all: “It’s a district!”
The results of a public opinion poll published in that issue noted that 58 percent of the people surveyed favored the creation of a new district, while 20 percent opposed it; in another survey question, 65 percent indicated a new school district would be beneficial to the students.
The district took possession of the Albuquerque Public Schools buildings in the district — Rio Rancho Elementary, Lincoln Middle School, Puesta del Sol Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Ernest Stapleton Elementary — and two schools once in the Jemez Valley district, Eagle Ridge and Mountain View middle schools.
One year after RRPS became a reality, the district’s ambitious plans to build more schools began to unfold: Colinas del Norte Elementary in 1995; practically identical Eagle Ridge Middle School and a new Mountain View Middle School in 1996; Rio Rancho High School in 1997; a new Puesta del Sol Elementary (its original campus became St. Thomas Aquinas School) and a temporary Independence High School at the original site of Mountain View Middle School in 1999; and Vista Grande Elementary and Rio Rancho Mid-High in 2002; Maggie Cordova Elementary and a new Stapleton Elementary came on line in 2005, the year the old Stapleton campus was turned over to Shining Stars Preschool; also in 2005, a building was leased on Quantum Road for the Cyber Academy; Independence High School moved to that building on Quantum in 2007 and shared space with the Cyber Academy until the academy acquired an existing building on Jackie Road in 2008; and Cielo Azul and Sandia Vista elementary schools in 2008.
The last school built was Cleveland High School, which opened in 2009. That same year, the old Mid-High became Rio Rancho Middle School, as the opening of CHS meant ninth-graders could be returned to the RRHS campus.
On July 1, 2004, Rio Rancho Public Schools held a small, but sincere, gathering at Outback Steakhouse “down the hill” to commemorate its 10-year anniversary as a district.
About 80 people were on hand, a 15-minute video showcased a decade’s worth of accomplishments, and Superintendent Sue Cleveland noted, “There are still challenges ahead.”
This 20-year anniversary celebration seems destined to be a real blowout: A half-hour video has been produced by Cleveland High teacher Shayne Sawyer and a half-dozen dedicated students and Santa Ana Star Center is being used to fit in all the celebrants.
A special 20th anniversary celebration dinner brought invitees to Rio Rancho High School’s cafeteria Thursday evening for the premiere screening of the impressive video, which highlights every school in the district, plus a brief interview with each school’s principal.
“We didn’t have a script,” Sawyer said, explaining the production crew was trying to capture the district’s past, present and future, which it did in what became 60-65 hours of footage.
“We got some great stuff,” she said, not sure where the video would wind up: It’ll probably be viewable on YouTube and might be made available as a DVD from the district for a nominal fee to purchasers.
Cleveland said she gives the video “two thumbs up” and noted that the 60-plus hours of unused video will be a part of the district’s archives.
“One thing that is great about this district is everybody is accessible,” Sawyer said, while still editing the video in late July. “Most principals didn’t know who I was.”
Still, they were polite and answered questions posed to them by Sawyer and the students for filming.
That quintet of CHS students was made up of Class of 2014 members Nick Phillips, Letecia Baldonado, M.J. Carter and Jillian Kovach, plus senior-to-be Michaela Galindo.
“Special thanks to Yvonne Galindo,” added Sawyer. “They were her advanced film students — she let them go with me and we used her equipment all the time.”
“I’m proud of these kids,” Sawyer said. “I loved working with these kids — they’re like little sponges, working the professional way. We treated this as a regular production.”
Along the way, Sawyer said, some of the CHS students encountered previous teachers and principals from their days in RRPS.
“(They) were excited to see how they’d grown up,” she said.
Not 20 years grown up yet, like the district, just grown up and proud to be a part of this chronicle of the district’s two decades of existence.