Both Belen and Los Lunas school district administrators announced they are considering longer school years following the announcement of additional state funding available to districts that take part in the extended learning and K-5 Plus programs for the next two years.

“This is coming from the state to offer something that is really positive,” said Belen Consolidated Schools director of curriculum and instruction Renee Sanchez. “The extended learning doesn’t fund as much as K-5, so in order to fund all the teachers and all the support they will need, stacking the programs is the best recommendation.”

The extended learning funds would push the calendar to 190 days, but “stacking” the K-5 Plus program with it could result in 205 instructional days.

The programs are fully funded right now, Sanchez said, and it’s been communicated that the state would like to see all districts participate in one or both “to recover from any instructional time loss and gaps.”

Since the announcement from the New Mexico Public Education Department was sent on March 26, Belen put together a vetting committee, including teachers, parents, community members and one board member as an observer. The committee has reviewed the calendar options twice, Sanchez said, and district administrators are taking all the recommendations to the leadership team.

Each version — the 190 day and 205 day — has three different options with varying school break schedules.

Sanchez said one option has students beginning class as early as July 28 and finishing on June 17, while another has a start date of Aug. 2 and the same end date. Other options include not adding as many additional days to the calendar but instead “embedding” them into the calendar.

“These are just discussions. We are looking at things like removing some of the single days off and combining them into a week in October, making it look like a year-round calendar,” the director said.

She called the programs an opportunity for the district to help students close achievement gaps.

“This would be turning down a lot funds. It’s a two-year commitment that we can take advantage of that is unprecedented,” Sanchez said. “Children haven’t lost learning but there are achievement gaps. We’ve seen that our first graders come back still reading but we have to get some to grade level comprehension, to recover achievement gaps through interventions that are unique to that student.”

While she has been working quickly to develop the various calendar options, Sanchez has been talking to a lot of teachers, she said.

“For some, this might be a challenge. Some are looking forward to more instructional time with their kids, and they get paid. We’re not asking anyone to do this for free,” she said. “Those who did K-5 Plus in the past have said they enjoyed the time with the kids.

“I don’t know if there has ever been a decision made where everyone agreed. If we really focus on student learning, I think the community will understand. During the second vetting, people had some very good, challenging questions and at the end, we all came to the understanding this is the direction we are going.”

Parents and other stakeholders were asked to weigh in on the possibility of students being in class 190 or 205 days in the 2021-22 school year during an April 21 workshop hosted on the district’s YouTube channel.

An academic calendar for the 2021-22 BCS academic year has not been approved by the board of education. The soonest board members could take it up for a vote is at their Tuesday, April 27, meeting.

Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero initially proposed a similar extended school calendar — which he dubbed the “opportunity calendar” — that would include more days in the classroom for all students kindergarten to 12th grade for the 2021-22 school year.

“We get to be in the driver’s seat to say, ‘this is something that is beneficial to have for all of our students K through 12,” Romero said. “We have the right people, we have the right teachers, we have the right principals to be able to do this. And when we do this, we’re going to show dramatic positive outcomes and gains for our students right here in Los Lunas.”

The initial proposed schedule, introduced during the April 13 board of education meeting, was developed by a 15-member calendar committee consisting of district parents, teachers and staff.

On Wednesday morning, Romero told the News-Bulletin, the district is “holding off on the 205-day calendar. I want to thank the community for their input and will be creating a planning committee for the future.”

The superintendent said Wednesday the district is still considering a 190-day and a traditional calendar. Romero also said he is inquiring if individual elementary schools want to opt in to the K-5 Plus program.

The board was scheduled to vote on the calendar during the Tuesday, April 27, board meeting. The board may consider the new calendar during its May meeting.

The initial schedule proposed by Romero on April 13 would increase days in the classroom for students to 205, an increase of 20 instructional days. The school-year would start on July 14 — July 12 for teachers — and end on June 9, 2022.

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. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.

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.