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RISD board discusses steps to hybrid learning

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Roswell Independent School District School Board members, from left, James Edwards, Hilda Sanchez and Hope Morales listen to a presentation by the board’s legal counsel, Tony Ortiz of Ortiz and Zamora Attorneys at Law, Santa Fe, during a board retreat Tuesday morning in the board room of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce. (Juno Ogle Photo)

Parents of students in Roswell Independent School District can expect in the next few weeks a survey with just a few simple questions to gauge what they prefer the district do when the district can reopen schools.

That was one directive to Superintendent Mike Gottlieb that came from the RISD Board of Education’s training retreat Tuesday. In the morning, the board heard a presentation from its legal counsel, Tony Ortiz of Ortiz and Zamora Attorneys at Law, Santa Fe.

In the afternoon, the board discussed several issues including what steps to take when the district is cleared for hybrid instruction, the possibility of offering small group instruction for elementary grades and the hiring process for a new superintendent.

All of the subjects were for discussion only and no votes were taken. The topics could be on the agenda for the October board meeting.

With a two-week average of 26 new daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 8.6%, Chaves County is above the state’s threshold for being in the “green zone” of eight or fewer new cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate of 5% or less. Those counties designated as green are able to have hybrid classes in their public schools.

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When — or if — Chaves County reaches that status, the board will have to direct the superintendent about what action to take, Gottlieb said.

“The question the board is going to have to consider if we go to green, do you want to bring the kids back to school and how quick,” Gottlieb said.

The administration would need a week at most to get kids back in the school, once the Public Education Department has made a visit to verify all the safety requirements have been put in place, Gottlieb said.

“If it looks like we’re going to go green, we’ll be working fast,” he said.

But, he said, the board may want to consider when it would be appropriate to open the buildings for hybrid learning. If it comes close to the end of a nine weeks, for example, the board may want to hold off until the next nine weeks begins.

All but seven of the state’s counties are in the green zone, according to the New Mexico Health Department’s website. Gottlieb said statewide, six school districts will wait until January to start hybrid learning, four started this month and 12 will start in October.

While wanting to observe safety practices to keep students, teachers and staff from being exposed to the coronavirus, board members and Gottlieb said they are aware of the need for students to be back in classrooms. Several of them shared experiences from the public and even their own families of the struggles students and parents are facing in remote learning including students getting migraines from being at their computers for hours or losing interest in learning, difficulties getting help with individual education plans and affordability of internet access.

“Our top core kiddos are failing. Our bottom core kiddos aren’t learning,” Gottlieb said. “What this means is remote learning at this point in time and virtual learning is extremely difficult for teachers but it’s even more difficult for kids,” Gottlieb said.

“My heart right now is breaking. I have not slept much because of this very issue. Our schools are some of the safest places for our kids. They’re getting love, they’re getting food, they’re getting educated and they’re secure and safe. And right now they’re not getting any of that. If you have any heart at all, it should be breaking,” he said.

Board members agreed changes need to be made in the district’s remote instruction.

“Something’s got to change because we’re losing kids. We’re losing kids to reach their potential,” Milburn Dolan said.

Students of all ages are spending about six hours a day online for instruction, Gottlieb said, and he would like to reduce that amount of time.

He was to meet with building principals Wednesday morning, and said he would discuss cutting online instruction time to a half hour per subject. Currently, teachers can spend from a half hour to their full class period of an hour or even 90 minutes in some cases in instruction. He will also discuss limiting classes to one graded assignment per week rather than two.

Board President Hope Morales asked if it would also be possible to cluster the live online class meetings before lunchtime rather than spread throughout the day to help parents find the time to work with their children.

The board also discussed allowing small groups of younger elementary students in classrooms. Under the state’s school re-entry guidelines, districts — even those in red zones — could be eligible to have in-person instruction for kindergarten through third grade in groups of five.

But Gottlieb said for RISD, rotating such small groups would mean students would be in the classroom every six days rather than a particular day of the week. That could create scheduling difficulties for parents, he said. Limiting the in-class students to lower-income families would be difficult since the district is 92% lower-income families, he said.

It would also mean teachers would need to instruct students both in the classroom and online simultaneously.

The board also discussed what processes they will need to decide in October’s meeting for the search for a new superintendent.

Gottlieb was appointed interim superintendent in January after the resignation of Dr. Ann McIlroy. In March, the board approved a one-year contract with him expiring in June. Gottlieb had previously been superintendent for eight years, retiring in 2012 after a 30-year career with RISD.

The board will conduct its own search rather than hiring an outside firm to do so, a move that was probably beneficial considering expenses related to the pandemic, Gottlieb said. It also gives the board flexibility in its search, he said.

“The nice thing about you guys doing it or having me help you do it, you’re not paying a company $30,000, $50,000, $100,000. You set what you want, you’re not letting someone else set it for you,” he said.

The board discussed options of having Gottlieb screen applicants to make sure they meet the requirements versus having the board do so as well as having Gottlieb present a suggested timeline for advertising the position.

Board member Mona Kirk asked about the possibility of looking within the district for its next superintendent.

“One of your options is to say you want to pick someone internal, then you don’t have to go through the whole process, but what you have to do is make everything public,” Gottlieb said.

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