Citing an unprecedented opportunity to do what is best for students, the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education, after hearing recommendations from district administration, voted Tuesday night in favor of enriched learning opportunities with a balanced calendar for the 2022-2023 school year.
The option was one of two choices supporting an additional 10 days of enriched learning time for students, which came with a three percent pay increase for educators. The raise is in addition to a seven percent pay hike passed by New Mexico legislators and signed into law by the governor.
The biggest difference between the two came down to summer breaks; the traditional calendar included an eight-week summer break, with the balanced calendar providing for a six-week summer break with one- and two-week breaks scheduled throughout the school year to address burnout and pandemic-related trauma reported by educators and families.
The upcoming school year will start on July 21, 2022. Kindergarten, sixth, and ninth grade students will start on July 20, 2022 to accommodate for a smooth transition to new schools for students. Transition dates for pre-K will begin Tuesday, May 10 for children and families to learn about kindergarten.
That smooth transition for all students, according to LCPS Superintendent Ralph Ramos, includes remaining flexible for families and staff who had prior summer commitments.
“Our board has set the course for doing something different for students that this district has never done before,” said Ramos. “The time is now, and the success of this plan happens through shared leadership and collaboration with our unions, parents and students to do what’s best for kids.”
Keeping students first was a vision echoed by members of the board.
“We have an opportunity to foster innovation,” remarked Dist. 1 Representative and Board President Ray Jaramillo. “We get hammered that we are 50th in the nation when it comes to education, yet we don’t want to do anything to change it. I hope that after we finish talking (about the calendar options), we know how lucky we are to have millions of dollars available to us to make this happen.”
Dist. 2 Representative and Board Secretary Pamela Cort applauded the examples of extended learning that take basic skills and put them to use in the community, such as the home-building opportunity Organ Mountain High School students have with the Las Cruces Home Builders Association. A presentation on the project, Education House, was given earlier in the evening.
“We have been through so much in this pandemic,” said Cort. “Opportunities like these show our commitment to students to bring a diverse curriculum inside our classrooms. Our community will rally around education.”
Carol Cooper, who represents district 5, also supported a diverse curriculum, underscoring programs like Career Technical Education (CTE) through which Education House. was made possible.
“These student programs truly help us grow our own future workforce,” said Cooper. “Kids get to literally put their hands on learning. That does not always happen inside a traditional classroom.”
Dist. 3 Representative Robert Wofford pledged to support the will of the Board in whatever decision was best for education but expressed concern that the district remain flexible for students and families.
“Like everyone else on the Board, I received a tremendous amount of feedback from families about these options,” said Wofford. “Any decision we make will not be ideal for everyone, but as a Board, we are committed to ensuring the success of all students. This is the first step in that direction.”
Dist. 4 Representative and Vice President Teresa Tenorio felt Tuesday’s vote was an opportunity to make some historic changes with enriched learning.
“It doesn't happen that easy,” said Tenorio, “and we’ve experienced it as we re-engaged with students coming out of remote learning. What I see is an opportunity that will bring students to the classroom with enthusiasm.”
Tenorio also expressed concern about accommodating parents who addressed the Board Tuesday night and in emails about prior commitments that were made when school was expected to start in August. The board urged the administration to be flexible with families who have summer plans as the calendar begins.
“We are committed to remaining flexible to families in this transition to a balanced calendar,” said Dr. Wendi Miller-Tomlinson, Deputy Superintendent of Teaching, Learning, Leadership and Research. “The Board’s decision is an important step to expanding learning opportunities for students.”
The options were proposed at the direction of the calendar committee, a volunteer effort that included district staff, educators, parents and community members under the direction of Miller-Tomlinson. The committee relied upon information from the thousands of responses to city wide surveys of LCPS staff and community members.
Following Tuesday’s vote, district administration will continue to refine a list of Frequently Asked Questions that will assist families in the transition to the new calendar. The target date to have that document available is April 15.