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Principals join forces to better prepare students

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Principal Ralph Matta, Licia Hillman, Brian Luck and LaShawn Byrd make a presentation to the Roswell Independent School District’s board in December. Ruben Bolanos, Marcos Franco and Glenda Leonard (not pictured) also participated in the meeting. (Alison Penn Photo)

Graduation rates, college and career readiness addressed

Principals of middle schools and high schools at the Roswell Independent School District (RISD) recently presented their plan to revise the master schedule to prepare students for the future.

RISD’s secondary-education administrators presented their plan at a school board meeting in December. High school principals Ruben Bolanos, Brian Luck and LaShawn Byrd represented Roswell, Goddard and University high schools. Licia Hillman, Ralph Matta, Marcos Franco and Glenda Leonard came on behalf of their schools, Berrendo, Sierra, Mesa and Mountain View middle schools.

“Our secondary administration has been working their tails off on rethinking how we do school,” Superintendent Dr. Ann Lynn McIlroy said. “And they have embraced the concept that too often our structures are built for the convenience of adults, rather than the best interest of students. And to that end, they are going to present to you tonight what they are working on. This is a work in progress, but they wanted to provide this information to you as it moves forward …”

Byrd said the secondary administrator’s strategic planning began about a month ago and the project’s timeline has tasks, deliverables and accountability checks for the principals and their schools. At this time, Byrd said all high schools and middle schools have been involved in the planning process and “are on track” for researching options for the master schedule to meet the needs students. Byrd said the secondary staff has a tentative plan to share their recommendations with the district’s administrators near the end of January and are considering the implementation of the revised master schedule for the 2019-20 school year.

Bolanos and Luck said they understood that the district may receive phone calls from those concerned about the proposed changes. Bolanos said the schools have held faculty meetings, informed their staff and are having “fast and ongoing conversations” about the master schedule.

Bolanos said the idea is for RISD academics to be “extremely challenging” with high standards to prepare students for higher education or vocational and technical fields for their careers.

“If we think 20 years ago, cell phones and — who would have thought we’d have the technology we have now?” Bolanos said. “So it’s exciting to take on the challenge to prepare them for a future we don’t know (about).”

Principals’ objectives 

Luck, who has been in the district for 22 years and has spent 12 of those years in administration, introduced what he called a “huge” collaborative effort to create a plan with three primary goals.

“This is probably the first time that I can remember that as a group we got together to come and present something — not because somebody told us to do it, but because it is the right thing to do,” Luck, principal of GHS, said. “It’s the right thing to do for kids — it’s the right thing to do for our community and our teachers …”

• The first goal is to have 90 percent of all middle school students be high school ready. Hillman said this can be done by aligning with high school pathways, so prepare middle school students to know what to expect in high school. Hillman said the plan is to redesign the master schedule with a variety of options for students to provide “acceleration, remediation and engagement of all students at all levels.” Another part of this goal is to reduce courses with little interest from students and Hillman said the district will determine which courses to eliminate from the students’ career interest surveys in the Naviance Program, which focused on college and career readiness.

• Increasing RISD’s graduation rate to 80 percent of students finishing high school, with on-time completion the second goal. RHS’ principal, Bolanos, said the avenue to accomplish this goal is to increase student engagement by providing the students with opportunities to explore potential career interests through creative instructional design. Instilling “foundational skills for high demand and high wage jobs” in students is another object that Bolanos touched on in the presentation.

• The final goal is to have all RISD students transition from high school to college and be career ready. Matta, principal at Sierra Middle School, said the intention is to increase the number of Advanced Placement (AP) courses for students to gain college credit and to additionally collaborate with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell (ENMU-R) for strategic planning and alignment efforts. Partnerships between RISD with local business and economic development groups would also assist with this goal to “better students to meet expectations required in the workforce.” In preparing the students to be qualified in the workforce, Matta said the objective is for schools to be purposeful places providing “work connections and work-based learning opportunities.”

“We feel this is important that whenever a student leaves our district, that they’re ready to go ahead and tackle the workforce,” Matta said. “We need to align forces of study to meet (Career Technical Education) CTE pathways that lead to practical certificates.”

Matta also thanked Dr. Ken Maguire for his help and Maguire got a round of applause as he stood before the board. Maguire said he is “excited and eager” to collaborate with RISD, since it has been “known for a long time that secondary schools are a critical partner” for community colleges.

Board’s input 

Vice President Ruben Sanchez applauded the principals for being “people that make differences in kids’ lives every day” and reminded them about the “impact and influence” they collectively have on the district. Sanchez said their presentation was “amazing and motivating” and he was excited to see what would come from their efforts.

Mona Kirk, a board member, said school districts were “missing the boat” when they were encouraging students to go to college instead of simultaneously providing for vocational and technical education and training (Vo-tech) opportunities when those careers are also necessary. Kirk said the Vo-tech focus has come full circle and she is excited to see what the future holds for RISD. She referred a news article that she read about preparing students for a blue collar, white collar and “new collar workgroup.” She thanked the principals for preparing the future new collar workforce and for preparing Roswell’s youth for jobs that will be needed in the future.

Secretary Dr. Kathleen Pittman said she was happy to hear the principal’s excitement to engage their students and “do what is best for them.” She added that she was “thrilled that RISD is making a change.”

President Alan Gedde said he appreciated that each goal had students in it and the school board gave the principals a round of applause.

Dr. McIlroy said work behind making such changes is not easy and could be intimidating. McIlroy said she was “very proud” of the principals and applauded them — as well as Sonia Lawson, RISD’s assistant superintendent of academic services, and the district’s other directors working in conjunction with the RISD principals.

“As an entity, I feel like we’re definitely putting our best foot forward and we’re definitely putting the kids at RISD in front of other things,” Luck said.

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