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RISD, local businesses to prepare future workforce

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Ruben Bolanos, principal of Roswell High School; Jennifer Cole, Roswell Independent School District's director of federal programs; and Marcos Franco, principal of Mesa Middle School, listen to RISD Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy's opening remarks at the College and Career Community Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday afternoon. (Alison Penn Photo)

The Roswell Independent School District (RISD) along with local business leaders, higher education representatives and the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) met Wednesday to begin providing opportunities for students that may lead them into technical careers with local companies.

To begin the meeting, RISD Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy said it was “a pleasure” to have partnership with community members because it takes a village to raise Roswell’s students. McIlroy said the district will work on preparing students upon graduation to be great employees for careers with local industries. McIlroy said the topics discussed Wednesday will “influence and inform” the district’s curriculum beginning with middle school.

“This is a historic and an exciting day for Roswell schools because we have been charged by the state of New Mexico to create education pathways of study for kids,” McIlroy said. “Most districts have to go out and beg their communities to partner with them and what is so exciting for me is y’all came to us, so we’re way ahead of the game.

“These conversations have happened in the past, not with this number. But I think the combination of the schools, economic development corporation and our business and industry leaders — this is the beginning of a huge transformation and it’s an exciting, exciting brink. This is the tipping point. And so it is exciting and I think the future looks really, really magnificent for kids and for Roswell.”

McIlroy said the district is realizing the need for expansions of career pathways with input from local industries to build the workforce.

Another meeting is set for Oct. 29 and local business owners suggested they would like to have a panel of Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers to hear more about the programs. McIlroy suggested a career fair similar to college fairs in order to present career options in Rowell.

Bud Kunkel, chair of the board of the EDC, shared that if local companies want to reach out to the university (Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell) or the school district that Dr. Ken Maguire, vice president of academic affairs, and Jennifer Cole, director of federal programs, are the points of contact for the respective institutions.

Clara Clark, a school improvement consultant from the Southern Regional Education Board, monitored the conversation between the school district and local organizations on Wednesday afternoon.

Clark said she was been working with the University High School (UHS) and Early College High School (ECHS) for five years, the other two local high schools for three years, and the middle schools for two years on building model programs of study to connect high school classes and post-secondary classes.

Clark said not every field needs students with four year degrees, but the intention of programs is to offer more than high school education and an opportunity to earn credentials.

“Part of our mission is that we want all people by age 25 to earn a credible credential or a degree of value,” Clark said.

Many of the business leaders and education partners agreed that college and career readiness is important and had a desire to grow the workforce from Roswell’s own population of students. Clark said the district could use the work-study program in Las Cruces as an example.

McIlroy said the school district is a primary driver of economic development and this a responsibility to be taken “very seriously” and addressed “aggressively.”

“We want people to be attracted to this community because they have great jobs being offered to them — but that they know that their kids are going to receive a phenomenal, not just an OK or good education, they’re going to receive and phenomenal, world-class education,” McIlroy said.

The hope for RISD students is that they start Pre-K and continue on to be vital members of the workforce, or as a well-equipped student they decided to pursue postsecondary education, McIlroy explained. McIlroy said students would want the local jobs if they knew about them and she asked the local companies to provide a list of job opportunities available for high school students today in order for the schools to send them to the companies.

“There’s two things, there’s a need for labor today and need for sustaining labor in the future,” McIlroy said. “So there’s two different issues. We can help you with today — I feel strongly that we can … What we need to continue working on though is how do we build a sustainable workforce in the future?”

McIlroy said Cole has been working on college and career readiness in RISD and introduced her leadership team as Licia Hillman, principal of Berrendo Middle School; Heidi Shanor, RISD’s leadership director; Ruben Bolanos, principal of Roswell High School; Marcos Franco, principal of Mesa Middle School; Brian Luck, principal at Goddard High School; LaShawn Byrd, principal at ECHS and UHS; Ralph Matta, Sierra Middle School principal; and Glenda Leonard, principal of Mountain View Middle School.

Citing the importance of engaging students at young age, Clark said the latest research shows that kids start deciding as early as sixth grade if they will graduate from high school.

Some of the local teachers and principals shared what is happening with successful Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) programs at Goddard High School and Berrendo Middle School and the recently launched SytstemsGo aeroscience program. Andrea Bautista shared she will be teaching a clean energy course next fall and shared how community members from a programmer to a retired teacher were an integral part of the Hangar 84 Robotics Club.

RISD Principals Hillman and Bolanos did ask the local business owners for ideas on how to bring kids to businesses to spark their interest, because transportation and the sheer volume of students could pose challenges.

Clark said this meeting is the first step in producing students that are college and career ready. For students who are unsure about their futures, Clark suggests they should look for opportunities and she hopes the school will be the new venue for this exploration.

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