September 11, 2008

High, Middle Schools To Open at Same Time ; RRPS Sticks To Original Plan

By Elaine D. Briseo Journal Staff Writer

Rio Rancho Public Schools faces some major challenges ahead with the planned openings of V. Sue Cleveland High School and a middle school for the 2009-10 school year.

The challenges, in fact, were enough to make district officials think twice about opening a new high school and middle school in the same school year.

Currently, the district's eighth- and ninth-graders attend Rio Rancho Mid-High. When Cleveland opens, ninthgraders will be moved to the high school level and eighthgraders will be returned to the middle school level.

Officials plan to convert one wing of the district's eighthand ninth-grade academy, the Rio Rancho Mid-High, into a sixth- through eighth-grade academy, or middle school. The other wing will become a career academy that offers vocational programs for high school students.

However, the Mid-High committee that made that recommendation last school year was asked to reconvene and reconsider the timing. Some district officials thought waiting a year to convert the school into a middle school and leaving it an eighth-grade academy would be less stressful and save the district money.

The committee, however, met at a special workshop Monday and decided to stick with its original recommendation.

Committee chair LaJuana Coleman, RRPS executive director for secondary curriculum and instruction, told the board at its regular meeting later Monday that the group looked at the pros and cons of delaying the project for a year, or converting the school for the 2009-10 school year. She said one thing it learned after more research is that the delay would not necessarily save the district any money.

"We looked at the possibility of waiting for one year to stave off budget issues," Coleman said. "We would also have to do boundary changes immediately. We voted to move to a six-to-eight middle school model for the coming school year."

The board voted unanimously to follow the committee's recommendation.

Among the reasons for doing the conversion in 2009 is that it would create less transition for next year's eighth-graders, who otherwise would spend a year at the Mid-High and then have to move to the high school the next year, Coleman said.

Also, delaying boundary changes would not make it any easier for families to adjust. Coleman said it would also give students more opportunity to participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. Leaving the Mid-High an eighth-grade academy for a year would be too expensive for the transportation department.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland said she was torn over which route to take but said she would support the committee's decision. She was head of the district when it opened Rio Rancho High in 1997 and said it was a lot of work.

"It's going to be very, very hard to open a middle school and a high school in the same year," Cleveland said. "Having listened to what the committee has said, I think it's better to go ahead instead of waiting for a year. A lot of kids will be affected but we have to do it."

The district will have to realign all the middle school boundaries in order to create a student population for the new middle school. It will be the first comprehensive middle school boundary change in years. The district already has created an attendance zone for the new high school. All students north of Northern will attend V. Sue Cleveland High.

Board member Don Schlichte said he supported the committee's recommendation because it had spent months researching the issue and had already made a decision. He said he had not heard a good enough reason to delay opening a new middle school next year.

"I think we should do it," he said. "We need to do these boundary adjustments whether it's now or later. There is no reason to put off the pain."

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