Letters to the Editor 1-20-17

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Sugar says he would bring unique, personal view to school board

My name is Dr. Darryl Sugar. I am running for the school board in the Chamisa area, because I feel I can help continue the high quality of education at Los Alamos Public Schools. Nationally, the data indicates a growing number of stresses that affect students as well as teachers. As stresses from social platforms and other demands grow, mental health is increasingly at risk and can interfere with performance. That increases the likelihood of significant anxiety/depression or drugs/alcohol being used.
I have a unique and personal perspective on this. My wife died unexpectedly on Christmas in 2009 in Denver, while we were visiting my daughter and her husband who are also physicians. Looking back, I became severely depressed and felt like my  life ended. When I returned home to South Carolina, the depression worsened, and I went to the office where my wife and I spent most of our time and decided to join her. I started a fire but found it was impossible to end my life.
I was charged with arson when my office manager contacted the insurance company and had me talk with them about the fire. When everything was investigated fully, I was charged with a minor misdemeanor. Because my wife was only 57, an autopsy was performed in Denver that revealed the cause of death was extensive coronary artery disease. The severe depression interfered with my ability to function even with daily living. It took several years to fully recover through trial and error treatment with physicians.
There is an increasing mental health problem occurring in schools across the country. Los Alamos is no exception. I bring a personal view to the problem especially in an area where there is concern about government approval and how it might affect employment. These various problems exist, even if no one wishes to address them. The topic is an uncomfortable one for many people. While these occur in the adult population, they also strike 25 percent of students. If not evaluated and treated, the condition only worsens.
The environment and other factors that can impact mental health are varied and need to be approached individually. Knowing how to recognize issues early is critical. I know what to do, programs that can be implemented and what has be effective, sharing this with board members and the community is one of my goals.  
Drugs and alcohol are pervasive and have an effect on a large segment of the population. After surgery in 2000, I became addicted to opiates and was treated for this in November of 2000. I struggled with this problem until 2006. I had two brief relapses between 2000 and 2006 and was treated for each one. I was penalized for each of these relapses and did not practice medicine until I finished treatment.
Approximately 10 percent of the population is predisposed to having problems. Frequently people are not aware they have a problem until they are far advanced into addiction. If openly discussed there is a chance of preventing problems from becoming advanced. Students need to be instructed honestly and with accurate information. Understanding what to look for and how to deal with the individual  before and after exposure to drugs/alcohol is vital. Educating those interacting with students and the students themselves in what to observe at an early stage and intervening is part of the solution.
I have been deeply involved with these issues. I have dealt and resolved my difficulties with addiction and depression by facing and learning about them. This has resulted in a deeper understanding and compassion for others. My insights can be invaluable on the school board. I can bring a different perspective to the board.  No other member is a physician and I can add this to the school board.  
As a doctor, I have spent my life leaning and continuing the educational process. I have three grandchildren in Los Alamos whose education and well being is of utmost importance to me. I believe I can bring new insight and perspective and enthusiasm to the school board.
Darryl Sugar, M.D.
Los Alamos

UNM-LA is investment for now and future

I grew up in a town where almost everyone worked in the surrounding aircraft and chemical plants. We also had a university branch, which, typical of the time, had no connection to the high-school students.
We college prep students took our scholarships, left town and planned to never look back. However, even with great grades and academic honors, college was a shock. Had I attended a community college branch, the next two years could have been a lot less confusing.
Fast forward to today and schools like the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. Now there are dual-credit opportunities for high-school students. Dual credit encourages these students to consider higher education, both academic and vocational. It enables them to discover new strengths and interests. Moreover, to graduate from a New Mexico high school, the law requires students to take either an AP class, a dual-credit class, or an online class. In Los Alamos, our students need only go across the street to further their education. Unfortunately, UNM-LA is only reimbursed about 6 percent of the costs of teaching dual credit students.
We moved here in 1977, and I took FORTRAN at the UNM branch. Later, our college poetry class included the town library director, a dean of instruction, several lab scientists and tech writers, and some retired community members.  It also included a few “traditional” teenage college students, each with a spark that the rest of us tried to help grow.  What an amazing idea. Here is a school that has been integrating itself into the community, and vice versa, for decades. In the late 1990s, X-Division encouraged its scientists to teach classes at UNM-LA. I taught pre-algebra and beginning algebra to a group of people from Metzger’s, and we had a nice, loud, enthusiastic time learning to work story problems together.
Until I came to Los Alamos, I had only a handful of really good teachers. Then I went to UNM-LA, which had dozens of fabulous teachers. There is now a financial shortfall, and they’ve been laying off staff, teachers, grant writers – eating their seed corn. Given oil prices, state financial support is likely to fall even more. Part of UNM-LA’s function is to help grow employment and expertise, offering fire science, technology, medical, and even marketing programs, as well as preparing students for advanced study. Right now they need to rebuild their staff. Beyond that are more possibilities: movie technology, culinary school, various medical technologies – if they can expand. Think of the mil levy as an investment for now, and for the future.
 On a more mundane note, a better economic climate is likely to maintain and even increase our property values. I am voting yes on the UNM-LA mil levy.
Sheila Schiferl
Candidate, Dist. 5, UNM-LA Advisory Board
White Rock