The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Year in review: New superintendent took charge of Clovis schools


January 1, 2020

The Clovis Municipal School District saw a big change this year as Renee Russ took charge as superintendent to fill the role left by the departure of Superintendent Jody Balch.

Balch served five years as superintendent, first taking over in July 2014, and had served a total of 39 years in education before deciding to leave the career behind.

“You know when it’s time,” Balch said to the CMS board after announcing his intent to leave. Balch went on to be appointed to the Curry County Labor Management Board by the County Commission in July.

Russ was one of three finalists chosen from nine applicants for the superintendent position and had previously served as the deputy director of federal programs with CMS since 2011.

A Clovis native, Russ also spent time as principal at an Albuquerque elementary school and Ranchvale Elementary. She also previously served as director of instruction and director of human resources in the CMS district.

Russ officially took over on July 1 after serving as interim superintendent while Balch used his remaining vacation time. Russ’s salary was set at $153,000 for a two-year contract.

“Serving as the CMS Superintendent is the pinnacle of my career, and I have loved just about every minute of it so far,” Russ told The News. “I’m proud to be a Wildcat, and I’m very optimistic about what we will accomplish together in the coming year.”

Russ said she was most proud of the district’s recruitment and retention efforts since taking over, stating the district had its lower first-semester turnover rate in recent years in 2019.

Russ added she is most excited to work with Cannon Air Force Base and the University of Virginia Darden to bring more programs and opportunities to Clovis campuses in the coming year.

Also in 2019:

• Clovis Community College selected Charles Nwankwo as it’s fifth president, replacing former president Becky Rowley, who was selected for the position of president at Santa Fe Community College in March.

Nwankwo’s journey to CCC took him from working a job at a Circle K convenience store to a successful career in college administration. He attributes much of his success to the opportunities given by his local community college that got him on track to a higher education and broadened his horizons.

First coming to the U.S. as a Nigerian immigrant, Nwankwo was advised by a sponsor to pursue higher education and for a time could only find odd jobs, like working in retail at Sears and Circle K. He enrolled in at a community college and found the experience to be very personable, with faculty and staff going out of their way to ensure he was doing well.

Starting with an associates degree from Houston Community College, Nwankwo went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Houston and a PhD in education administration from University of Texas.

With 20 years of community college experience under his belt, Nwankwo previously served as vice president of technology at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona and will officially step into his role as president at CCC on Feb. 17.

There were over five dozen applicants for the president position, narrowed down to only five candidates before Nwankwo was selected. As president he will receive a $185,000 annual salary and will be joined by his wife Nene and 17-month-old twin sons as they becomes part of the Clovis community.

• Eastern New Mexico University received approval for its first liquor license this year, allowing alcohol to be served at events held at its Campus Union building.

According to ENMU President Jeff Elwell, the scope of the license will be very limited and only used to cater events like marriages held on campus or other similar gatherings.

Following approval from the Portales City Council, ENMU ceased being a completely dry campus in November.

• Clovis High School senior Jason Garten received the Flight Academy scholarship from the U.S. Air Force this year to earn a private pilot’s license. The scholarship is worth $20,000

In January, Garten found out he was one of 150 Air Force Junior ROTC cadets across the country to receive the award, which lets him enroll in a training program and earn a private pilot’s license free of charge.

While the award does not require a military commitment, Garten stated he has already enlisted in the Air Force and will have a delayed ship out date as he completes the program.

• The Clovis High School band swept the Zia Marching Festival in October for its eighth consecutive state championship win.

As band activities do not generally fall under the New Mexico Activity Association’s authority, Zia is often considered the state championship for band programs in the state.

This mark’s the CHS band’s 19th overall state championship, its 14th year claiming the grand champion title and the 40th time the band has made the finals during the event’s history.

Clovis earned the title in the final round by more than fives points and also earned the musical achievement, general effect and visual effect rewards for the competition.

• Portales High School student Parker Yi was one of 200 students selected to be part of the All National Honors Ensemble this year, as he traveled to Orlando, Florida to perform in November.

Yi played the euphonium as he and his fellow performers spent three days practicing before the show on Nov. 10. He said the experience was nerve-wracking one, but very rewarding.

Yi plans to keep pursuing music at ENMU and went on to audition for the New Mexico All State Band for the third year in a row.


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