By Kevin Wilson

Report: School staff happy to be working in classrooms again


August 12, 2020

PORTALES — As school board members met online Monday, they heard reports of Portales Municipal Schools staff happy to be working in classrooms again as they prepare for the new school year.

“It’s nice to see them back, and most of them were glad to be back,” Superintendent Johnnie Cain told the Portales school board. “They learned a lot about the new path we’re heading.”

The school board heard of numerous challenges with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and how staff hoped to overcome them as the school year starts Monday in a virtual setting for grades 7-12.

Grades K-6 have been delayed to Sept. 8, at which point Cain is hopeful those grades can attend class in person with social distancing, face coverings and other COVID-safe practices.

“We’re at the fate of the state and this virus,” Cain said. “There’s nothing we can do except grin and bear it. All I ask teachers is to do the best they can. We know it’s not going to be perfect, and I think it can still be good.”

The district is waiting on neck gaiters and COVID-related signage, 700 Chromebooks and 50 wireless hot spots paid for through CARES Act dollars.

The district issued 300 of its 1,100 Chromebooks on hand Monday to students in grades 7-12, and is holding off on issuing them to grades K-6 with the hopes in-person instruction will be cleared by the state Sept. 8.

Cain presented school calendars to the board for approval, and noted he didn’t attempt to update the spring semester calendar because of too many unknowns.

In other business at the meeting:

• Retired Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble and retired Vice President of University Relations and Enrollment Services Ronnie Birdsong addressed the board regarding the upcoming general election and Bond C for higher education.

The recurring bond, if approved, would provide $156 million for higher education, including $8 million for ENMU in Roosevelt Science Center renovations ($7 million) and general infrastructure ($1 million).

“The way we look at it, anything that helps Eastern New Mexico University helps Portales schools,” Gamble said. “Also, anything that helps Portales schools helps Eastern New Mexico University.”

Birdsong noted the jobs, which would include $30 million for a new nursing education facility at the University of New Mexico and $16 million for New Mexico State’s ag, science and engineering programs, would result in 1,500 jobs statewide.

• Interim ENMU Chancellor Patrice Caldwell updated board members on the school’s operations, following its announcement nearly two weeks ago to go online for the full fall semester.

Even though Caldwell believes New Mexico is flattening infection curves, and that everybody wants in-person instruction, the last thing the university wants is to create infection spikes in the community.

The online courses, Caldwell said, are rigorous and they’ve found students have been flexible and determined.

“We thought they would drop off,” Caldwell said. “We thought they would cancel their enrollment. They have not. They’re going to finish their degrees and they’re going to do great things.”

She said her heart goes out to K-12 schools working through the pandemic. While ENMU is going through the same pandemic, Caldwell said, it is explaining protocols to adults and not young children.

• District Finance Director Sarah Stubbs gave board members a review of per-pupil expenses — a PPE not to be confused with personal protective equipment.

On average, the district spent about $12,715 per student. Broken down by school, Brown Early Education Center ($14,520.45) had the highest expense largely because of grade-specific grants. The lowest per-pupil expense came at Lindsey-Steiner Elementary ($9,606.36), which is a newer building with lower operation costs.

Stubbs noted the shutdown that began in March impacted expenses that are normally higher for Portales Junior High ($10,203.97) and Portales High School ($10,455.12) .

“That’s when our high school does a lot of travel (for activities),” Stubbs said. “There are a lot of things that didn’t happen at the junior high and high school levels. These numbers are going to be skewed at every school district because of the shutdown.”

• Athletic Director Mark Gallegos said the normal fall sports that hadn’t been pushed to the spring — volleyball, cross country and golf — would begin with Oct. 5 practices.

Gallegos said he was thankful for his coaching staff finding ways to stay in contact with kids, and thankful to administration for dealing with him during a summer where he approached them with countless problems and limited solutions.

n The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 14. “We’re planning on the board room,” Board President Alan Garrett said, “but we’ll probably still be streaming.”


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