Top Education Stories Of 2013

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By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos Monitor looks at the top education stories of 2013 in no particular order.


Paula Dean retires
With “great reluctance,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt accepted Assistant Superintendent of Schools Paula Dean’s retirement this year.
Schmidt credited her for actively promoting academic achievement for the district’s students and professional development among the teachers and staff. Schmidt also credited her with playing a leading role in helping the Los Alamos Public School District achieve district wide accreditation.
She was replaced by Gerry Washburn.

School bond passes 4,283 to 1,784
County Clerk Sharon Stover congratulates Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt in her offices Tuesday. Los Alamos voted 4283 to 1784 in favor of the bond. The vote gives the school board and the district permission to spend $20 million in bond funds to improve the infrastructure of the school district.
The money will allow continued construction and renovation to go on at the Los Alamos Middle School as well as allow planned renovations and construction take place at Aspen Elementary over the next five years.

Voters reject
proposed UNM-LA 2-mil levy
It was not to be. Though the margin was close, with 47.49 percent of those who voted supported a measure to fund an extension of programs at the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos campus, and 52.21 percent voted against it. The unofficial tally is 2,662 for and 2,908 against.
UNM-LA Business Director Lisa Wismer, who was one of many heavily involved in the “Vote Yes” campaign, offered words of consolation.
“I’d like to thank you for showing your support, appreciation and support you showed UNM-LA,” she told the crowd. “We all have a passion for education, and we wanted to convince the community to invest in the future, as far as it relates to UNM-LA, and it didn’t come out the way we hoped.”
If the levy passed, it would have raised property taxes by 2 percent, generating around $1.4 to $1.5 million a year for the school. To put it in perspective, a $300,000 home with a taxable value of $100,000 would have the owner paying $66.67 more in taxes a year.

Windstorm rips roof from Barranca gym
One person called it a “Dust Devil on steroids.”
Emergency officials called it a “major wind event.”
Whatever it was, everybody was breathing a huge sigh of relief in May after part of the roof of Barranca Elementary School gym was blown away.
The wind event scattered insulation and other roofing material throughout the school grounds, including the school parking lot.
No one was injured during the incident, which witnesses said lasted about two minutes. Most students had already left.
Then Barranca Mesa Elementary School Principal Pam Miller recounted the brief but violent windstorm.
“It was like a mini tornado,” Miller said. “We were in the gym having lunch when we heard something like a train going by. You could hear the roof peeling off.”

Passing the baton
Outgoing school board member Dawn Venhaus moved on to focus on her duties at the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos this year as she passes the school board “baton” as a symbolic gesture to her successor, Jim Hall.

Aspen closed
for summer
A worker from Moving Solutions takes some items out of a portable classroom on the Aspen Elementary School campus, as Herb McLean, Construction coordinator for the district, takes a last look around. The Aspen Elementary Campus will be closed all summer due to construction.

Torres wins top teacher award
When Carolyn Torres, a math and science teacher at Chamisa Elementary School, won the Teacher of the Year Award for Los Alamos earlier this year, she automatically became a finalist for the state title — just like the 89 other teachers that won for their districts throughout the state.
It was later announced she won the state title.
To put that in perspective, there are roughly 860 public and charter schools throughout the state, each staffed by an average of 20 teachers.
Chamisa Elementary celebrated the day with a school assembly, where staff and her peers congratulated Torres as she sat where she seemed to be the most comfortable — right in the middle of her third grade class.

School passes new budget
The Los Alamos Public Schools passed a budget , allocating $35.7 million for Los Alamos’ school students. The budget keeps the reading program intact for the elementary schools, but will not replace the seven retired teachers. However, there will be one “reading coach” to monitor the reading program at the elementary schools.

Chamisa returns to normal
Last winter, teachers and staff helped put their classrooms back together again after flooding damage sent water down through the ceiling and walls of the some parts of the school, damaging several classrooms.
The damage was caused by a “perfect storm” of snow melt followed by freezing cold. The school’s main drainage pipes became blocked with ice, backing up snow melt from the roof, which caused water to enter through the ceiling.
“Most of the kids have done pretty well. For some it was a little challenging,” second grade teacher Megan Lee said.

Los Alamos schools climb in national ranking
Los Alamos High School made a significant leap in a national poll this year when it was revealed the school went up more than 80 spots in U.S. News and World Report’s ‘Best High Schools’ rankings list.
In 2012, the school was ranked 638. In this year’s poll, the school is at 556, advancing 82 places since last year’s poll.
The poll, with help from the American Institutes for Research, analyzed three main factors in 21,035 U.S. high schools.
“Though I don’t know the intricacies, I do know that US News and World Report valued the increase of the number students taking advanced placement courses,” Schmidt said.

Board set to decide payback timing
Though it doesn’t seem like much when your budget is $30 million, $200,000 is 200,000, and a debt is a debt. When the New Mexico Public Education Department revealed that Los Alamos Public Schools was one of the many districts it accidentally overpaid, and it need the money back, the Los Alamos School Board went to work. After much discussion, the board decided to pay it off in monthly installments, just because they weren’t sure if that was the only funding mistake PED has made. They also didn’t want to set a precedent.
According to LAPS’ Chief Financial Officer John Wolfe, the PED did not care how the district did it, which played a big factor in the board’s decision. Board Chair Jim Hall asked Wolfe if it would cost the district anything either way, and Wolfe responded that it wouldn’t.

Cyberbullying policy OK’d

With “cyberbullying” becoming a new word this year, The Los Alamos Board of Education recently voted to adopt a cyber-bullying policy. The state requested that all of its school districts have a policy in place by the end of August.
“I think, in general, we are struggling to address social media, and what we call the ‘Gen Y’ kids. This current generation has generally had the Internet at their fingertips since birth. So when we talk about social media we have to think about the world they’re used to operating in and we have to be careful about unintended consequences,” said Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn.

LAMS gets moving
Los Alamos Middle School students moved into their new school this year, leaving the portable classroom behind that they occupied for at least two years while construction was going on around them.

School board members slow down, modify state mandates
“Common Core,” “NMTeach,” “Power School,”.... became household words this year as the Los Alamos School Board enacted a plan this year to deal with the flood of new mandates and teacher evaluation criteria issued by the New Mexico Public Education Department. With the district’s teachers up in arms over the perceived lack of help, effective tools and direction from the state over how to deal with all the changes, the board decided to draft a letter to Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera on how the district plans to deal with the mandates.
The letter was written by the Study Group for Teacher Concerns, a group made up of school board members, teachers and parents.
The letter is due to be sent out this January, but in the meantime, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt said this year that the district will enact changes even before the letter is sent.

Student council asks for dress code change
The student government at Los Alamos High School has its way, or more accurately the entire student body, students at the school could see a massive revamp of the dress code.
In November of this year, Student Council President Soumyo Lahiri-Gupta, Vice President Jason Dunn and other officers of the council approached the Los Alamos Board of Education about making modifications to the code.
According to Dunn, their survey questions to the student population revealed two main gripes: the required length a pair of shorts must meet and the way the dress code is enforced.
The board recommended to the students that they come back in February with changes that they want to make as well as a full report as to whyl
“We believe that the adoption of this dress code will improve the overall morale at Los Alamos High School and increase student spirit,” Dunn said.

Los Alamos schools earn top ranking in
The Los Alamos Public School District learned that its achieved a rare milestone as far as school systems are concerned. “AdvancED,” an accreditation service that grants district-wide accreditation status to school districts, recently told the district that it has received the highest level of accreditation, which, officials say, is very rare.
“I am proud to say that Los Alamos Public Schools did receive the highest status possible,” New Mexico’s AdvancED director, Priscilla Fernandez said in a statement. “Fewer districts throughout the nation received fully-accredited status compared to years past, due to the rigor involved in the accreditation process.”