Districts around the state are ready to get back to educating, but there’s still one key item administrators are waiting for — guidance from the New Mexico Public Education Department on COVID-19 precautions.

Belen Consolidated Schools, Los Lunas Schools and the School of Dreams Academy charter school are in the same boat. The most recent COVID-19 toolkit for public schools was released by PED in April, and still requires masks and physical distancing of at least 6 feet.

As of Monday morning, BCS Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez, and all administrators in New Mexico were still waiting for the new toolkit, which the state had promised to release by mid June.

“We have no (new) direction from PED yet. I assume we will be asked to follow the most recent toolkit until a new one supersedes it,” Sanchez said.

The summer conference for superintendents across the state began yesterday, Wednesday, July 21, and Sanchez said since PED Secretary Ryan Stewart and his team would be in attendance, he hoped to have more answers by Wednesday.

As of News-Bulletin press time on Wednesday, PED had not released a new toolkit.


Belen Consolidated Schools

Students in the BCS district will be heading back to the classroom on Wednesday, Aug. 4, and in terms of the 2021-22 school year as a whole, Sanchez said the goal is to get better.

The district is working to align resources for teachers so they are the same from school to school. This type of alignment won’t take away an individual site’s autonomy, Sanchez said, but it will make sure teachers have access to common resources across the district.

He said Renee Sanchez, the district’s assistant superintendent of academics and instruction, is transitioning the district’s learning plan into an interactive tool for teachers.

“We are seriously questioning every decision we make,” Sanchez said. “What do we do well? What are we OK at? What needs to improve? We are examining everything we do and asking, ‘Is this really putting students first?’”

After a year spent mostly in remote learning, the district has set a goal of making sure every student who wants one has a device on the first day of school, as well as ensuring they have some kind of internet access.

“The district isn’t going to be laying lines, so a lot of that is still going to be hot spots, but we will make sure they have that,” Sanchez said.

BCS won’t have a separate virtual academy but online learning will be available to students who need it for health reasons or to meet the needs of their individual education plans, he said.

“We strongly believe students should be back in class. I’m not saying students can’t learn virtually, but it does not work well for a lot of them,” Sanchez said. “We may have to assign some students who want (virtual) to a district with an online academy. The big thing we want parents to understand is it’s essential for kindergarten through eighth-grade students to be here.”


Los Lunas Schools

Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero said there will be no major changes to school schedules, curriculum or uniforms going into the 2021-22 school year.

The first day of class for Los Lunas students will be Wednesday, Aug. 4, for all grades. The district is still considering including first-graders in the transition day typically provided for only kindergartners.

“For all of our first-graders, they haven’t been to our school sites yet, so we want to be able to allow them to come in, get to know their teacher and their campus,” Romero said. “Also, the same thing for the parents.”

Through the Extended School Year Program, after-school programs will be offered at every school site with slight changes from school to school determining program focus depending on the needs of the particular student body. Romero advised parents to  “keep an eye out and be listening to your school about what that is going to look like.”

As conversations about critical race theory began to circulate on Facebook in regards to the district’s curriculum, Romero said there will be no major change to curriculum this year.

He said the district went through an adoption process last year of Savvas Learning Company — formerly Pearson K12 Learning — materials for high school English and Spanish language arts, but the new material was mainly shifting already existing curriculum to an online format.

“Whenever we go through an adoption process, it’s really a year-long process,” Romero said. “The community, parents are allowed to be involved. We have multiple meetings with teachers and really narrow it down to get a wonderful conversation based on what curriculum we will adopt.”

He added while Savvas does offer a component to include culturally relevant literature to the curriculum, the district has always included diverse literature and culturally responsive teaching.

“The truth is, we have always been able to do that,” Romero said. “If you think about being a high school student, you were exposed to multiple authors from multiple cultures and taking things from different viewpoints. It’s not really a big change to what we have done other than it’s a new, updated version of that Pearson curriculum.”

As the state reforms guidelines for social studies for the first time in two decades, Romero said the district plans to focus on math, language arts and science this school year.

“We are allowing (the state) to do that work and once we know what the standards are, then we can look for the curriculum that can best meet the needs that we have in Los Lunas that will also match those standards,” Romero said.


School of Dreams Academy

School of Dreams Academy will enter into the 2021-22 school year with a relaxed dress code, and more opportunities for students to participate in supplemental programs, such as robotics and filmmaking, said SODA Superintendent Mike Ogas.

SODA will begin classes for most students on Monday, Aug. 9, with pre-kindergarten and kindergarten beginning on Friday, Aug. 16. The school year will end on May 27, 2022.

After a special meeting on July 19, the SODA Governing Council decided to relax the dress code in the upcoming year, no longer requiring polo shirts with the SODA logo. However, the council left open the option that uniforms may be reenacted later this year. The full dress code can be found on the SODA website, sodacharter.net.

Ogas said this was to ease the financial burden on parents, however the school will still expect students to “dress for success” and be “clean-cut.”

The superintendent also expressed excitement for the secondary-level supplemental programs previously offered after school to be included within the school day.

“That way, we’ll be able to run the buses after it’s over and more kids will have the opportunity to participate in a class they may not have (in the past) because they had to take a bus out to wherever they needed to go,” Ogas said.

The inclusion of the programs to the overall school day will result in an extended bell schedule at the secondary level of about an hour and a half. The final bell schedules will be posted to the SODA website and Facebook page.

At the secondary level, SODA will begin offering students workforce training programs beginning in sixth grade.

“We are building that out now. We have been talking to people for the last year and a half on it. We will be offering some introductory courses that way,” Ogas said.

Ogas said these programs will begin with the basics of entering the workforce, such as resume writing, interviewing and vocational options. As students approach graduation, they will be able to look into different certification programs, such as welding, electric, coding, digital arts and filmmaking.

The robotics program will also begin to be offered at the elementary school level. Before the pandemic resulted in the closure of schools across the state, SODA began to offer this in their primary school, but had to put a pin in it.

“We’re just getting ready to move forward and see what the year has to bring,” Ogas said. “We’re excited to have kids back on campus.

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.

Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.