• Lujan highlights $25 million in education funds for state

    Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District highlighted $25 million in Race to the Top funds that New Mexico will receive to improve education in the state.
    The grant from the Department of Education is part of the Early Learning Challenge that focuses on improving early learning and development programs for young children by supporting states’ efforts to:
    • increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs;
    • design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services; and
    • ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.
    “Education is the key to unlocking opportunities for our children and preparing them to be leaders in our community,” Luján said. 
    “It is vital that New Mexico’s children get off to a strong start with a solid foundation, and these funds through the Race to the Top program will enable New Mexico to invest in early education that is a critical component to future success.”
    New Mexico will receive the $25 million award over four years.

  • School board election set for Feb. 5

    School superintendent Gene Schmidt said it’s not too soon to begin thinking about the School Board election slated for Feb. 5.

    Two White Rock positions will be up for election. Current Piñon Elementary School Board representative Dawn Venhaus and Chamisa Elementary School Board representative Melanie McKinley announced that they would not seek reelection.

    A special information night is set for Dec. 4 at the Chamisa Elementary School Library. The informational meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. Board position one represents the west side of White Rock, Pajarito Acres and the Royal Crest Trailer Court of Los Alamos. Board position two represents the west side of White Rock. Both Board positions are for four years.

    According to school superintendent Gene Schmidt, board members have a wide range of responsibilities. A major function of any School Board is to develop and adopt policies that spell out how the school district will operate.

    The Board is also responsible for designating the chief executive, as well as planning and setting short- and long-range goals. The Board, in consultation with the superintendent, is responsible for approving and adopting an annul budget that will provide the financial basis for the buildings, furnishings, staff, materials and equipment needed to carry out education programs.

  • Infrastructure debate surfaces

    What began as a routine contract approval hearing turned into anything but, at a recent Los Alamos Board of Education meeting. Problems zeroing in on the school district’s aging infrastructure quickly took center stage.

    It all started when the Los Alamos Public School District’s purchasing manager, June Gladney, informed the board that the district has secured a contractor to repair the roof at Piñon Elementary’s “200” building, without the school board’s official approval. Usually, the school board would have a small debate about the specifics of the proposal, but this time, in order for LAPS to take advantage of state funding, the project had to be completed by the end of December.

    That is why the school district decided to go ahead with the project with little input from the board, merely requiring board President Kevin Honnell’s signature to start the project off before the board had time to look into the specifics of the contract.

    “To this end, the department has been very proactive to meet the Dec. 28 deadline,” Gladney told the board. “PSFA (Public School Facilities Authority) funding expires Dec. 31.  There is no getting around that, and that means this project has to be finished by Dec. 28, and that is what we told the contractor.”

  • Board mulls builder choice

    The redesign project of Aspen Elementary recently received a boost when the Los Alamos Public School District’s Citizen’s Review Committee picked a Construction Manager at Risk to head up the project.

    The CMAR will be Jaynes Corporation, according to LAPS Purchasing Manager June Gladney.

    “The interview with Jaynes’ staff was dynamic, exciting and on target. It is clear that they understand the CMAR process and how it will benefit our Aspen project,” Gladney said in a recent report on the matter.

    A CMAR is an industry term for a construction manager that, once a total construction cost estimate is agreed upon with the client, must make sure to stay within the agreed budget. A CMAR usually agrees to assume all cost overruns, thus, the “at-risk” part.

    Gladney reminded the board of the difference, using the construction currently going on at the middle school as an example.

    “I hope the board will approve our selection,” said Gladney, reminding the board that “this is a CMAR project, in that we are moving away from the McCarthy model. There will be a preconstruction phase where there will be a guaranteed maximum price and then move forward from there.

    The district sent out a request for proposals and Jaynes was one of six companies that responded.

  • LAHS staff: 'We're here for you'

    Counselors have been on hand at Los Alamos High School and middle school since Monday, and they will continue to be available as students and faculty mourn the passing of Nikolas Ventura-Arencon. His funeral was Wednesday morning at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.

    Ventura-Arencon, 14, and a freshman at LAHS, was killed in a car accident on N.M. 4 last week.

    Since the accident, LAHS has been taking an active role in making sure students who knew Ventura-Arencon get the help they need to deal with the sudden death.

    Guidance Counselors Prentice Chatfield, Danielle Straate, Enid Burgess and Cindy Black have been visiting classes and talking with students about Ventura-Arencon.

    “We’ve had different reactions as any group of students would,” Straate said. “Some don’t react, some are crying, it’s very individualized.”

    Though events like this don’t happen frequently, the staff does have specialized training to help students deal with what has happened.

  • Council funds LAPS DP Road project

    In a move that reaffirms the Los Alamos County Council’s determination to backstop local schools, the council voted unanimously to approve a request from the Los Alamos Public Schools for financial support to develop its A-15 tract along DP Road.

    LAPS requested $51,700 to bring water and electricity to the parcel to make it attractive as lease property or for a land swap. LAPS Assets Manager Joan Ahlers estimates the improvements to the property will yield $5,400 to potentially $35,000 a year in additional revenue for the district.

    Leasing is one of the few options schools have for raising income for operational costs and salaries without reducing their share of the state’s funding formula.

    Likewise, capital improvements are one of the county’s few means of benefiting the schools without affecting that formula.

    The request is in alignment with council’s 2008 resolution to provide financial support for public schools. Deputy County Administrator/Chief Financial Officer Steven Lynne also noted that the county has a placeholder of $1.5 million within the Capital Improvement Project Fund for public schools partnership projects, which will serve as the pool of funds for the grant.

  • Schools mourn student's passing

    The Los Alamos School District is doing what it can to help students and staff as people come to grips with the passing of freshman Nikolas Ventura-Arencon, who died last week in a head-on collision on N.M. 4.

    Another passenger in the car, Divine Fellers, 13, a Los Alamos Middle School student, remains at UNM Hospital in Albuquerque in stable condition recovering from injuries, according to Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department Captain Adan Mendoza.

    Drivers Jennifer Ventura-Trujillo, 41, of White Rock and Dennis Bernal, 43, of Santa Fe, were released from Los Alamos Medical Center and Santa Fe’s Christus St. Vincent Hospital, respectively the night of the Nov. 21 crash. Mendoza said this morning that a careless driving citation was issued to Bernal on the day of the crash. Bernal also submitted to a drug screen, Mendoza said.

    Mendoza said the investigation is ongoing.

    “We are still doing interviews and talking to witnesses as well as waiting on lab results,” Mendoza said. “The investigation should be done in a timely manner. After all the work is done in the investigation, we will see if other types of citations or charges are warranted.”

  • Students find a day to display

    During “UNM-LA on Display: Spotlighting Student Projects,” more than 20 students from the visual arts, humanities, business, science and technology presented projects on what they learned in classes this semester.
    Jackie La New, Accelerate Career Technical advisor at UNM-LA and Dr. Irina Alvestad, chair of the Applied Sciences Department organized the event.
    “We wanted to share what our students are learning with the community,” La New said. Alvestad worked with department chairs and faculty to recruit students to create the presentations.
    Business Administration major David Trimmer modeled a personal investment strategy. Using an imaginary $250,000, he was able to rack up $27,000 in profit in one month.  
    “I learned that each stock has a pattern,” Trimmer said. “For example, one of my stocks seemed to go up around 10 a.m. Stocks are also strongly affected by news that comes out about the company. Monitoring the financial news is crucial.”
    Using a mobile system they built in Photovoltaics I class, Rene Holaday and Doug Hefele ran a power drill with energy stored in the solar array. Holaday and Hefele work together at Los Alamos National Laboratory and share a passionate interest in alternative energy.

  • Students pitch in for hurricane victims

    The images of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy hit Piñon Elementary School art teacher Stephanie Rittner hard.

    “I felt we couldn’t sit back and not do anything,” said Rittner, who is originally from New York. “As a community that has been through a natural disaster ourselves, I felt we could understand what they would need most. I was home with my daughter that day, so I emailed staff and they got on the ball.”

    Principal Jill Gonzales said that Rittner’s email became part of the conversation about what the school could do to help.

    Staff reached a consensus that a fund drive for the American Red Cross would be most useful. Gonzales was at a conference at that time, but encouraged them to organize it.

    Guidance Councilor Ellen Cort, secretary Wendy Hime and school clerk Kelly Hinojos were the organizing force behind the effort. They put out buckets for donations and cut out red, white and blue stars students could write their names on and post when they donated.

    Instructional assistant Jo Lakis created the artwork and graphics for a “thermometer” to record progress and an oversized ceremonial check to present to the Red Cross.

  • Sixth grade students moved by victims

    Sixth grade students who participated in the project were eager to talk about their reasons for donating. All had been deeply affected by the images of devastation on their television screens. Many had relatives living in affected areas.

    They were proud of contributing their own money to the effort.

    “The first night I watched the news and thought, ‘I can help. I just need to figure out how to do that,’ “ said a student named Janessa. “Then the next day, I heard about the fundraiser. I donated $5 and I’m going to give more today.”

    “My aunt’s next door neighbor had a tree fall on his house,” Lexy said. “I thought it might help him and help a lot of people.”

    “I just wanted to donate because I’m a Boy Scout and just like to help people out,” Shawn said.

    “I did it to give people hope, giving hope to the hopeless,” Caleb said.

    “I feel we have so much to offer, and Hurricane Sandy destroyed so many homes, we have to give to this,” Anna said.

    “I feel great knowing we helped a lot of people,” said Jacob, who has family in Virginia.