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Local schools celebrate NMPED’s Straight-A Tour

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Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary of education, and students from Military Heights Elementary School raise a new banner celebrating the school’s A grade from the state in the cafeteria of El Capitan Elementary School on Thursday. El Capitan Elementary School also earned an A and those students also received a banner from the New Mexico Public Education Department. Ruszkowski visited those two schools and Sidney Gutierrez Middle School on Thursday morning as part of the NMPED’s New Mexico Straight-A Tour. (Alison Penn Photo)

Christopher Ruszkowski, secretary of education, visited Roswell to recognize and celebrate Sidney Gutierrez Middle School, Military Heights Elementary School, and El Capitan Elementary School for earning As this year. The visit was part of the Public Education Department’s New Mexico True Straight-A Express Tour.

On Thursday morning, Secretary Ruskowski and his team visited Sidney Guiterrez Middle School because the school has earned seven A’s in a row, which means the school has earned an A every year since the school grades were implemented. He said only eight schools out of 850 in the state have earned such an honor.

“I actually think Sidney Gutierrez is the only school that has earned seven A’s in a row outside of the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor,” Ruszkowski said. “So all of the other ones that have earned seven A’s in row are in the that Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor. To put it another way, I think you could make a strong argument that Sidney Gutierrez is the best school south of Albuquerque in New Mexico.”

With 850 schools and 89 districts statewide, Ruszkowski said only a little over 100, or 12 percent of all schools, earned an A. Though it is difficult, Ruszkowski said schools achieve because of outstanding, hardworking principals and teachers helping their students succeed.

“We have two schools that have earned their first-ever A,” Ruzksowksi said. “In New Mexico, that is not easy.”

After the middle school visit, Ruszkowski visited El Capitan Elementary School’s cafeteria, which was crowded with students, parents, teachers and administrators. Third- through sixth-grade students were present, from El Capitan and Military Heights, for the assembly. Ruszkowski presented banners for the schools and Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy handed out awards to the teachers.

McIlroy emceed the visit. School board members Alan Gedde, Dr. Kathleen Pittman and Mona Kirk, along with assistant superintendents Brian Byrd, Kenneth Bewley and Harry Tacket were present at the assembly.

“You guys did something that not many schools in the state of New Mexico are able to do,” McIlroy said, addressing students. “You guys did such a remarkable job last year. You learned so much and you showed us how much you learned last year and how much you grew in your learning that your school is actually rated as one of the top schools in the entire state of New Mexico.

“This celebration is all about you. Because you are incredible and we just want to celebrate you and and congratulate you and thank you for being such remarkable and exceptional students. Here’s the other thing, it’s also to encourage you to keep up the good work.”

Sierra Middle School students handed out glow sticks and were there to celebrate the other schools’ successes. The SMS students created a cheering tunnel in the hallway for all the younger kids to walk through after the assembly.

Stacey Damon, principal of El Capitan, said “it was amazing, absolutely wonderful” for the school to be recognized and that Ruszkowski was “phenomenal” in interacting with the students.

Students Lily Barela and Dyali Collins, both 10, said they were excited during the assembly and it felt “amazing” to be recognized for their hard work.

After the assembly, Anna Burrola, a third-grade teacher at El Capitan, was awarded $5,000 for excellence in teaching. Ruszkowski said only 1,000 teachers (or 6 percent) in the state — out of 21,000 — have received the excellence in teaching awards.

McIlroy said 70 more teachers were also awarded for being exemplary. McIlroy said Cortney and Jeremy Busby, wife and husband, were both exemplary teachers at Mountain View Middle school and were each awarded $10,000 for exemplary teaching at the secondary level and for teaching mathematics.

“We’re doing a great job and this year we’re going to show them that we’re going to rock it again, right?” Burrola said. Her students answered “yes” in unison.

“Guess which district I’ve visited the most?” Ruszkowski asked the students. “Roswell! This is my 10th time to Roswell. You know why? Because you guys are on the rise! This is a district on the rise. It’s a community that is on the rise.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.