Edwards calls for unity in face of controversy
Public speakers drew attention to issues with recent Roswell Independent School District personnel practices during a two-hour school board meeting on Tuesday night.
Nine speakers made comments that Hispanic leaders were being removed or relocated and employees were fearful of retribution if they spoke about these decisions.
In response to remarks made during the school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Ann McIlroy sent an emailed statement to the Daily Record.
“The district is focused on the well-being and education of its students,” McIlroy said. “Within that mission, the district works to treat all staff with respect and fairness and believes it is in compliance with all legal requirements for equal treatment of its staff.”
Before the meeting, Nicolas Kakaras, Richard Garcia, Virginia Garcia, Lorena Valencia, Francisco Patoni, Orlando Padilla, Kim Castro, Donell Hunter and Pauline Ponce signed up to speak for three-minute sessions. Kakaras was absent from the meeting. Nearly 120 people were at the board meeting, with some attendees standing in the doorway and even in the hallway.
Attendees wore RISD school shirts and held picket signs supporting Ruben Bolaños, former Roswell High School principal, and Hugo Loya, former Teacher on Special Assignment at Mesa Middle School. Public speakers claimed that Bolaños and Loya were being moved to other positions within the district.
When additional audience members beyond the nine who spoke expressed frustration about not being able to speak, board members said they could come to next month’s meeting — usually scheduled for the second Tuesday of the month. Board President Alan Gedde said the board’s policy only allowed for 30 minutes of pubic participation.
RHS alumni, retired and current teachers, coaches, members of the educators’ union, parents and students were present in the packed room. Speakers made it known the community’s perception of the decisions was negative and encouraged the district to consider their actions. Speakers also showed support for and approval of the other speakers with claps and cheers.
Along with McIlroy and Gedde, Board Secretary Dr. Kathleen Pittman, President Alan Gedde, Vice President Ruben Sanchez and Board Member James Edwards attended the meeting Tuesday night. Board Member Mona Kirk was present via teleconference.
RISD’s livestream of the meeting on YouTube only showed the last speakers, Ponce then Valencia, who returned to the lectern to give her speech in English.
Near the end of the meeting, Kirk drew attention to the fact that the stream was not working and hoped the district would figure it out. McIlroy also wrote that the technical issues were on YouTube’s end, and the YouTube servers were down from “4-7 p.m. according to downdetector.com.”
Erica Vital, student body president, and Yazmin Olivera, senior class secretary, spoke on the behalf of RHS students, saying they were “passionate” to “hashtag bring Bolaños back” because of his work at their school, which he makes their “home away from home.” Students say they knew about his removal before graduation.
Ruth Martinez, representing RHS’ Spanish club, said the students were united to have Bolaños reinstated and needed to be a part of the conversation because “it’s about our tradition, culture.” The group was not able to sign up to speak and Martinez questioned how the district could support students when they weren’t allowed to speak. Martinez said the club will be back next meeting.
“It’s just plain and simple,” Martinez said. “We want him back. We want him there. We want him at Roswell High.”
Richard Garcia, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) representative, said the community had “strong concerns” with the district’s “hiring practices, relocation, demotion” of certain individuals.
“We’re here to support the community, the education program, because we believe in it,” Garcia said. “The future is out here. The future is way before us. But I believe today with you all at the helm have to make some strong decisions, but also don’t have to accept them. So I ask that you consider some of these moves, or decisions that you have made, for the best interest of the unity of this community …”
Padilla said to the board that workplace “bullying” and “preferential treatment” of administrators’ relatives or friends were present. Padilla said a teacher called a board member to address concerns and an assistant superintendent directed the teacher to not contact board members.
Pittman and Edwards showed disapproval upon hearing about the interaction between an administrator and an educator — and the fear employees are facing regarding their jobs. Pittman reminded RISD staff that their civil rights are intact as district employees.
An ethics complaint to the New Mexico Public Education Department is being considered by teachers and ancillary staff, Padilla said. Padilla presented a petition with 150 signatures to the board.
Ponce said “limited communication” from the district “emboldens” the community to express themselves. She expressed the group was “resilient” and “tenacious,” and would be returning. Ponce asked that hiring issues be investigated for “a pattern of discrimination” toward minorities, and that there be accountability for establishing the pattern.
Bolaños and Loya
Kim Castro, RHS alumna and coach for Charlie’s Angels Dance team, said: “I read your letter, Dr. McIlroy, that was to the faculty, staff and administration where you said he (Bolaños) was perfect for his new job because of the knowledge of the community, charm, relationship-building skills and love for the kids and you thanked everyone for sharing our leader with the rest of RISD students.
“With all of those qualities mentioned, which I agree, why in the world would we want to share him? We need him at Roswell High School …”
With Roswell High School in particular, speakers explained that Bolaños was valuable and relatable to the largely Hispanic and bilingual students.
“He’s awesome,” Valencia said of Bolaños. “He represents Mexican people, his traditions. He’s our voice and we are (here) to raise his voice with you guys.”
Virginia Garcia, also with LULAC, spoke to the character of Hugo Loya, who she said was also “awesome” with students and she had respected “his quality of performance” at various Roswell schools.
Gedde and Sanchez thanked speakers for coming and let them know that they were heard. Gedde said the board has processes to be used to the “best of our ability to make sure that our children have equity and equality and to make sure that our district is the best district in the state.”
RHS Alumna Pittman stated the duties of the board were making decisions about property, policy, finances, hiring and evaluating superintendents and board vacancies — “not to meddle in day-to-day.”
During board communications, Sanchez, Kirk, Pittman and Edwards all said constituents emailed, called, messaged and even visited them in person about the issue.
Paraphrasing a book on leadership, Sanchez said the “link between race and ethnicity” could be broken by setting “a common aggressive” academic standard and providing ample resources and instructions to all students. He said he also got calls about concerns with 200 kids not graduating. He asked the community, which he described as having “concerns and up in arms,” how they could help the district with the graduation rate.
Pittman said she was disappointed about the community’s perception of the district and she said there “cannot be an adversarial relationship if we are to provide the best education possible for our students”
“All of our teachers and principals are important,” Pittman said. “Did you hear me? Did you hear that? All of our teachers and principals are important. We need to be very careful what we say because we have to be careful of the impact it has on the people that we most want to help, want to help them do a good job.
“Some things that have happened in the past month are not productive for our district. Students need a positive environment in which to learn and employees, all employees, need a positive environment in which to work. As a member of your school board, I will do what I can to make sure we have a positive environment throughout our district for all students and for all employees.”
“I’m gonna tell you — I know some of these folks that spoke tonight,” Edwards said. “I know some of them were still here. They’re not going to go away. It’s not a Ruben (Bolaños) problem. It’s not a black, white, Hispanic problem. This could happen to anybody that is sitting out here in this group right now and you wouldn’t like it. You wouldn’t like it. I know I didn’t like it and it wasn’t all about Ruben. Heck, I was concerned with the vacuum we left in the elementary schools and a lot of elementary people knew about it.”
“Yes, you were tasked with coming into our district to unite not to divide,” Edwards said, gesturing to McIlroy. “And I’m going to put that out there. And I hear division …”
City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at email@example.com.