The controversial Rail Runner Express doesn’t make any stops in Rio Rancho, but the City of Vision has become a regular stop for the New Mexico True “Straight A Express” of the state’s Public Education Department.
PED Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski began the inaugural Straight A Express tour late last summer at The ASK Academy in Rio Rancho, and he made his third and fourth stops of this year’s trip in Rio Rancho.
Grades were released for the state’s 843 schools Aug. 17, when it was learned two-thirds of RRPS schools continue to earn “A” and “B” grades, led by Rio Rancho Cyber Academy’s sixth consecutive year of earning an A; RRCA was Ruszkowski’s second stop last Monday.
His first stop in Rio Rancho was Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, which also earned an A.
“Out of the 843, only a little over a hundred earned an A,” Ruszkowski told the wide-eyed students sitting on the MLK Jr. cafeteria floor.
Although she’s in a new position with the district, former MLK Jr. Principal Janna Chenault wanted to be on hand for the ceremony, which marked the fourth year in a row that school received an “A.”
“I think, as a principal, you set the structures and the system and the expectations and the vision, and then holding everybody accountable to that — so you’re the glue that holds it all together,” Chenault said. “If you look at the schools that went up (a grade), they have a lot of systems in place, I think very similar. … I think the teachers appreciate when you have structures in place and they know what it’s expected of them.”
The state’s grading system for public schools provides parents and the community with information about school performance. It is important to understand that letter grades are but one indicator of how schools and students are doing.
Also in the RRPS grades, according to the district website: Four schools improved at least one grade level from 2017 to 2018; Sandia Vista Elementary moved from what had been a “D” two years ago to an “A”; Colinas del Norte Elementary has moved from a “D” to a “B” over the past two years; and all four RRPS middle schools and all of the district’s high schools — except Independence High School, the district’s alternative high school — maintained “A” or “B” grades.
All told, six schools received “A’s”: Cyber Academy; MLK Jr., Enchanted Hills and Sandia Vista elementary schools; and Rio Rancho and Mountain View middle schools.
Receiving “Bs” were Colinas del Norte and Vista Grande elementaries; Eagle Ridge and Lincoln middle schools; and Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools.
Cielo Azul, Ernest Stapleton, Puesta del Sol and Rio Rancho elementaries all received “Cs”; Stapleton and Cielo Azul had “Bs” in 2016-17. Maggie Cordova Elementary and IHS each slipped from a “C” in 2016-17 to a “D” for 2017-18.
According to the RRPS website, IHS was awarded a school improvement grant, which will help the district put additional resources in place to work with students and intervene as early as possible when they need extra help. IHS is designed to help students who are academically behind catch up and earn a diploma, with a number of measures in place that over time should improve four- and five-year graduation rates.
RRPS has ongoing efforts to improve student achievement, including testing and data analysis programs and the NM Dash framework for analyzing assessment results and staff and community needs, according to the website.
The 2017-18 school year was a notably “lean” budget year and the district had to cut a number of teaching positions, as well as having difficulty filling all available positions with highly qualified teachers. This year, improved funding is enabling the district to restore some of those resources, and improved salaries should help attract and retain good teachers, administrators and support staff.