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Highlights From Aug. 29 School Board Work Session

on September 6, 2019 - 7:01am

School Board member Andrea Cunningham, center, was presented a certificate and hard hat by School Board President Ellen Ben-Naim, left, for her outstanding contributions to the Barranca Elementary School construction project. Also on hand for the presentation was Barranca Principal Virginia Terrazas, right. Courtesy/LAPS

LAPS News:

The Los Alamos School Board met Thursday, Aug. 29 for a work session.

The agenda included:

  • Review of options to address what is best for elementary and middle school students and consider anticipated student enrollment increases;
  • Summary of the student wellness survey;
  • Safe and civil schools update;
  • Review of School Board policies; and
  • Consideration of roof modifications needed at Barranca Mesa Elementary School.

To begin, School Board member Andrea Cunningham was presented with her very own hard hat and a certificate as the unsung hero for the Barranca School Construction project. School Board president Ellen Ben-Naim recognized Cunningham’s “months and months of work behind the scenes” as well as her outstanding “shuttle diplomacy.”

The work session continued with an ongoing School Board discussion about what is best for elementary and middle school students as well as options to address anticipated student enrollment increases. The key driver for School Board members was developmentally appropriate academics, social emotional development and extracurricular opportunities. In addition, the rapid pace of LANL and N3B hiring and nine housing developments in Los Alamos could significantly increase student enrollment over the next five to 10 years.

When asked, the LAPS professional staff and school Principals stated that sixth grade students in Los Alamos could be better served if they were part of Los Alamos Middle School. There are developmental advantages to having sixth grade at the middle school with more curriculum specialists and elective options for students. In fact, many sixth grade teachers in Los Alamos already departmentalize for math, reading, writing, and science.

Other facts that are impacting elementary school enrollment in Los Alamos include parent requests for Pre-K at every elementary school. Piñon and Barranca Elementary Schools currently offer state-funded Pre-K. It is projected that the State of New Mexico will increase funding for early childhood programs during the 2020 Legislative Session and LAPS will likely apply for an increase in Pre-K funding for Aspen, Mountain, and Chamisa Elementary Schools.

An analysis of research about the ideal size of elementary schools shows that about 500 students is an enrollment number that often promotes optimal learning, depending upon the curriculum and local circumstances. With the increase in Pre-K classrooms and student enrollment, it may be a challenge to keep Los Alamos elementary schools from getting too large.

The most time-sensitive issue at the School Board work session was about a legislative appropriation of $24 million for school districts that receive Impact Aid. LAPS is one of the school districts eligible for this additional funding called “Outside of Adequacy”. 

The School Board had to move quickly because applications for “Outside of Adequacy” funding are due to the state by Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. After considering current options, the School Board approved a motion to submit the Outside of Adequacy application with two requests:

a) $1 million for educational specifications to consider a sixth grade wing at the middle school -- this may help with overcrowding at elementary schools in Los Alamos and improve curriculum options for sixth grade students; and

b) $2 million for possible staff housing that could assist with much-needed affordable housing in Los Alamos. Because of the high cost of housing, many school districts in New Mexico provide affordable housing often called teacherages.

Community meetings will be scheduled in White Rock and at Los Alamos High School to review options for addressing the anticipated increase in student enrollment and increasing learning choices for middle school students.

Dr. Steinhaus also presented information about the new Extended Learning and K-5 Plus programs as well as the possibility of a new K-12 Plus program for the 2020-2021 school year. Steinhaus said: “it would be helpful to start early in seeking community feedback and guidance about the impact to school calendars and expanding options for students.”

The School Board then heard an update on the LAPS Student Well-Being and Engagement Survey, presented by Learning Systems Director Kathryn Vandenkieboom, Kristine Coblentz, Healthy Schools Program Director, and Erin Middleton, Data Analyst. The survey included five questions with the goal of providing a quick snapshot of student engagement. Questions have been refined for the 2019-2020 school year with the addition of one question tied to safety.

Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Guy and Healthy Schools Director Kristine Coblentz presented on the Safe and Civil Schools initiative, which had received support from the School Board earlier this year. According to Guy, the safe and civil schools model is a framework that sets clear expectations for staff and students. The STOIC framework is based upon these elements: structure, teach, observe, interact and correct, and offers student engagement strategies for use not only in the classroom but in the community.

The School Board also approved the updated 2019 Preventive Maintenance Plan and reviewed several board policy changes.

The School Board Work Session included a presentation about roof modifications required for the next phase of remodeling at Barranca Mesa Elementary School. It was recently discovered that the lightweight concrete layer on a portion of the roof of the 200 building is completely saturated and deteriorated in places. This could require the removal of the entire roof system and cause a change in scope and schedule of the project.

For questions about the School Board Work Session, contact President Ellen Ben-Naim or Dr. Kurt Steinhaus at 505.663.2230.