• Board takes no action on merit pay

    After much debate, public opinion and a little soul searching, the Los Alamos School Board decided to let a state-sanctioned “one-time” merit pay program die where it stood.
    No votes were taken on the matter. Instead, the board opted to take no motion on the offer and moved on to the next item on their agenda, effectively rejecting the New Mexico Public Education Department’s invitation for the district to sign up for a program, that, if it met all the qualifications, could’ve meant a little extra cash for some of the district’s teachers and principals.
    According to the program’s application, teachers marked “exemplary” could earn a $7,000 bonus; those with a rating of “highly exemplary” could earn a $5,000 bonus.
    Called the “New Mexico Incentive Pilot Program” the purpose of the program, according to NMPED, is to “reward New Mexico’s best teachers and principals throughout the state,” according to a statement in the program’s application form.

  • Mountain School names new principal

    Los Alamos Public Schools announced Tuesday that Jennifer Guy has been selected to serve as the next principal of Mountain Elementary School.
    Guy has most recently served Los Alamos Public Schools as a kindergarten teacher at Pinon Elementary School.
    Guy said that she is “very honored and excited to join the Mountain staff and community. I look forward to working with staff, students, and parents to continue to foster the level of excellence and love of learning that has been established at Mountain.”
    Guy has 24 years of teaching experience serving at Hobbs Municipal Schools, Moriarity Public Schools, and Los Alamos Public Schools. She has taught students from kindergarten through 8th grade, as well as special education classrooms.
    She has been actively involved in new teacher development at the district and state level through the dossier writing process. She also served on the New Mexico Educator Leader Cadre, which was working on preparing the state for the new state wide standardized student assessments.
    Among the honors she has received over the years are: Lea County Educator of the Year (twice), Reading Renaissance Master Teacher, Golden Apple Nominee, and Certified Core Knowledge Teacher.
    Guy has a master’s degree from Eastern New Mexico University in Pedagogy and Learning.

  • Board raises hot lunch prices

    During a recent special session, the school board opted to raise the price of hot lunch by 25 cents, from $3.75 to $4.
    Though the board was toying with the idea for a few months, it was all but forced to do so once it received new information about the hot lunch program’s financials at the special session.
    During the session, it was revealed that the program actually lost money this year.
    According to figures presented by the district’s CFO John Wolfe and business service specialist Regina Mertz, the district finished the program $3,426 in the red. The board weighed this sobering news with other factors, which included an aging dishwasher and heating equipment that apparently is in need of repair.
    What prompted the price discussion in the first place was that the district’s hot lunch provider, Summit, recently announced that it was raising its production costs from $3.71 to 3.79. Summit creates the hot lunches off campus and delivers them to the kitchen at the Los Alamos Middle School. From there, they are distributed to the other schools.

  • Committee will look at schools

    The Los Alamos School Board has voted to restock its Master Planning Facilities committee and the public is invited to join.
    Several years ago, using the truism “In order to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been,” the Los Alamos School Board invented a committee to keep an eye on the state of its infrastructure.
    Formed about eight years ago, the Twenty Year Facilities Committee’s main purpose was to report on the physical state of the school district’s facilities and to establish whether or not they were still serving their intended purpose.
    Since 2006, the committee’s reports proved to be invaluable tools in convincing the public why it needed to OK construction bonds for Los Alamos Middle School and Aspen Elementary School.
    In recent years, though, the committee has been inactive and some members have moved on to other projects and committees.
    With that in mind, the school district’s chief operations officer, Joanie Ahlers, asked the school Board to consider restarting the committee.

  • School lunch price increase considered

    The Los Alamos School Board is considering raising the price of school lunch by as much as 25 cents in reaction to a price increase by the district school lunch supplier, Summit.
    According to the Los Alamos Public School District’s CFO, John Wolfe, Summit is raising its price from $3.71 to $3.79. The price the district currently charges consumers of the lunch is $3.75. In light of Summit’s price change, the district is considering raising the consumer price to a minimum of $3.80 or perhaps to $4.
    “Obviously, (Summit’s price increase) puts us in an immediate deficit situation as far as operating costs go,” Wolfe said to the board. “We are going to have to raise the price.”
    Wolfe also reported that so far, the lunch program is running at a profit, but, LAPS is unsure what the New Mexico Department of Education’s new reimbursement rates for free and reduced lunch will be in light of Summit’s price hike.
    There are also so impending equipment repairs and modifications that have to be made in the district’s middle school kitchen as well. According to Wolfe, the new price of $4 should be adequate to cover these unknown costs with the program running a deficit.

  • Board looks at reinvesting in own facilities

    For many years, the Los Alamos School system could always count on revenues from properties it leases out to area businesses. Those properties were mostly schools that were closed long ago, converted to office space and then rented out to such places as Los Alamos National Laboratory as well as small business.
    Lately however, LAPS has been feeling the strain of owning facilities that are aging rapidly in a real estate market that now has more vacancies in it than occupancies.
    At a recent School Board meeting, Joanie Ahlers, the chief operations officer for Los Alamos Public Schools, brought this issue before the board in an effort to get the board to regularly reinvest in the school systems leased facilities.
    “LAPS leased facilities is one of the Board’s largest areas of responsibility. It is a tremendous source of revenue for the district,” Ahlers said in a specially-prepared report for the board. “Our facilities are aging and very little capital reinvestment has occurred in the past to keep them viable, revenue generating properties. A capital reinvestment strategy is desperately needed in order to maintain the tenants that we have and to increase the possibility to attract new ones.”

  • Wolfe to leave school district for state job

    When it comes to the educating kids, much of the focus is rightfully on the relationship between the student and teacher. However, as anyone who knows anything about how a school district operates, there are a lot of people “behind the scenes” who are just as responsible for that student’s education.
    One of those people was John Wolfe, the chief financial officer for the Los Alamos Public School System. Wolfe, who has been LAPS’ chief financial officer for seven years, will be moving on to oversee the state’s entire public education budget, which includes all the public and charter schools in the state.
    July 11 is his last day.
    Wolfe has been involved in finance his entire career, even when he was in the military.
    “I’ve always been a numbers guy. I know it’s not for everybody, but I’ve always liked the figures, I like working with them, making them work” he said. “I liked coming up with the solution to the problem. If you don’t have the money for the program, you probably aren’t going to be able to do that program with the quality or to the level you would like to.”
    He said that what he’s going to miss most about working in LAPS is the people and his fellow co-workers.

  • Space available for career explorations program

    The Early College High School Program, a joint venture between the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos and Los Alamos High School, still has a few openings for its June 9-13 session, according to a news release.
    The program allows students to explore a variety of career options in science, technology, engineering, math and health sciences through hands-on learning activities.
    The topics to be covered include biofuels/biological sciences, digital media, emergency medicine/fire science, engineering, environmental science, health sciences, immunology, public safety, robotics and welding.
    A fun, unifying theme in each session is the threat of a zombie apocalypse, and how each of these disciplines might be used to thwart the impending invasion.
    “The events we have this summer are just an introduction to the Early College High School program,” said Grace Willerton, an Accelerate Career and technical advisor at UNM-LA. “We are hoping to get students interested in a career, so when they get to high school, they consider the Early College High School program.

  • Educator task force formed

    Teachers and principals from Los Alamos will be invited to serve on an Educator Effectiveness System (EES) Task Force that will meet in June and July to revise the district’s evaluation plans for teachers. This past year marked the first year of state-mandated changes to the teacher observation evaluation plans. Under this new system, teachers were observed in a set of four domains that rated teachers on a five step rubric, ranging from minimally effective to exemplary.
    The New Mexico Public Education Department made a commitment to provide districts the opportunity to revise their NMTEACH Educator Effectiveness System evaluation plans. In the course of the revision, the Public Education Department will allow elementary, middle, and high school three choices for completing observations.
    The NMPED will also allow flexibility in the choices that schools can make to measure improved student achievement, which includes the option to use student and parent surveys and end-of-course exams.
    A critical part of the Educator Effective System process is the collection of responses to student and parent surveys. For these surveys to be a meaningful part of the Educator Effectiveness System evaluation plan there must be a 95 percent response rate.  

  • School board passes budget

    As one of its last official acts of this year, the Los Alamos Public Schools passed a $37.9 million operational school budget for 2014-15. That’s a $1.3 million increase from last year’s budget, which was about $36 million. According to district officials, the extra income comes directly from the state.
    “That was through the additional funding that the legislature provided to all school districts. That $1.3 million was our share of that state distribution,” said the school district’s chief financial officer, John Wolfe.
    The board has also honored the state’s request that all teachers in the system recieve a 3 percent raise.
    If this year’s operational budget had a financial priority, it was to cut down on class size, especially in the elementary school levels. In addition to passing the budget, the board also voted to add three elementary school teachers to the elementary schools most impacted by a “bubble” that had swelled some classes, mainly in Aspen, Mountain and Barranca Mesa, to 25 students or more. That will cost $240,000. With salary and benefits, that comes out to about $80,000 each, according to Wolfe, who also added that’s more than an entry level teacher’s salary, but less than a “Level 3” teacher.