• Legislative roundup: 3-14-2019

    The New Mexican

    Days remaining in session: 2

    Confirmed: The Senate on Wednesday voted 41-0 to confirm John D'Antonio as the new state engineer, again making him the state's top official on water issues.

    D'Antonio was state engineer from 2003-11 and most recently worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He takes over his old post amid a high-stakes court case over the Rio Grande and as New Mexico faces the effects of climate change.

    The Office of the State Engineer has also seen staffing shortages in recent years and has frustrated plenty with what many have argued is a lack of transparency as well as a lack of direction.

    Being a familiar face who has worked on water issues for decades now, D'Antonio easily won bipartisan support.

    Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said he was "tickled" D'Antonio is in the post again.

    "We really need someone in that job with longevity," he said.

    As for some of the big challenges facing him, D'Antonio did say he is optimistic about settling the water rights lawsuit with Texas.

  • LAPS considers draft policy on privacy of immigrant students

    Following approval of a resolution to guard the privacy of immigrant students by the Los Alamos Public Schools board earlier this month, on Thursday the board will take up first drafts of a policy and a regulation on the subject.
    The policy and regulation discussions, along with a report on Los Alamos Middle School academic progress and programs are slated for review by the board at its monthly work session, 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Los Alamos Middle School, 1 Hawk Drive.
    The board also plans to talk about guided discussions that have occurred throughout the district’s community on changing start times for high school students.
    The proposed policy and regulation supporting students’ safe access to public education – regardless of their or their family’s immigration status – was the subject of a resolution adopted by the board earlier this month. The drafts are identified as the first reading for the board and aren’t currently designated for action on Thursday. Policies and regulations usually go through at least three public readings prior to a vote by the board, said Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus.
    Without a state or federal law requiring local schools to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, the board decided, with its resolution, that it would not do so without a warrant.

  • PED flip-flops on science standards

    Following a crowded, eight-hour public hearing on Monday, the state Public Education Department’s secretary designate decided proposed science standards should include the age of the Earth, after all.
    The proposed science standards for kindergarten through 12th grade were based on nationally developed Next Generation Science Standards, known as NGSS or Next Gen, but tweaked and edited by the state public education department and introduced in mid-September.
    Some of the edits and omissions have drawn fire from a host of New Mexicans, including 61 science and engineering fellows at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Los Alamos school board, students and teachers.
    Secretary Designate Christopher Ruszkowski issued a statement Tuesday night via the department’s spokeswoman’s IPhone, stating he had listened to the “thoughtful input received and will incorporate many of the suggestions into the New Mexico Standards,” following the hearing.
    The statement also pushes back at some of the criticism leveled at the hearing and in written public comments.

  • Science standards debate fills S.F. hall to capacity

    SANTA FE – Hundreds appeared Monday in Santa Fe for the single public hearing scheduled to comment on controversial science standards proposed by the state’s Public Education Department.
    Throughout the morning, no one spoke in favor of PED’s proposal, many saying the department’s rewritten version of the national Next Generation Science Standards, known as Next Gen, were politically motivated.
    The hearing was overseen by Kimberly Ulibarri, a PED hearing officer. Monday was the last day to submit comments.
    Two Los Alamos schools officials, Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus and board member Andrea Cunningham, had signed up to speak, but due to a lengthy interruption from a false fire alarm and problems managing the hearing’s sign-in sheets, the two didn’t speak. A second board member was called on to speak.
    Next Gen science standards were developed in 2013 by a consortium of 26 states, including people in New Mexico, and other organizations, such as National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Research Council.
    Changes made at PED include replacing references to climate change with “temperature fluctuations,” removes mention of the earth’s age as 4.8 billion years, and tweaks instruction on evolution.

  • Board OKs Barranca Elementary $14.8 million budget for construction

    Preliminary plans for renovation and additions at Barranca Elementary received approval of an estimated construction budget of $14.8 million by the Los Alamos Public School board on Tuesday.
    The project includes a new two-story classroom building for first through sixth grades, a cafeteria, administrative offices and a vestibule for two wings. The plan also calls for demolition of three wings of the current structure.
    The board approved the estimated budget, but the decision also entails putting off renovations of the field house and other structures at the football stadium until more funding is available.
    Initial estimates have risen from $12.7 million discussed last month with board members and FBT Architects to the current estimate, which includes furnishings and fixtures, said Assistant Superintendent Lisa Montoya, who is in charge of finance and operations.
    The project’s cost would come out of bond funds and state funding. 

  • Education secretary visits Los Alamos

    New Mexico has a chance to be among those in the forefront to update science standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, said the secretary of the Public Education Department during a visit to Los Alamos on Tuesday.
    Adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, also known as Next Gen, would put New Mexico among 19 states to embrace new science instructional requirements and updated content, said Cabinet Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski.
    He was in town to congratulate schools in Los Alamos for being among 121 schools statewide earning the “A” designation.
    PED has taken fire – particularly from the Los Alamos school board, local scientists and engineers and students – for modifications proposed to Next Gen, which includes switching out content on the human causes of “climate change,” for “temperature fluctuations,” and other modifications. Most recently the agency was the target of a letter signed by 61 scientists and engineers, Fellows of Los Alamos National Laboratory, published as an advertisement on Monday.
    The letter said the proposed modifications had “no scientific rationale,” and would tarnish the state’s reputation.
    Ruszkowski expects more discussions throughout this week, culminating in a hearing in Santa Fe on Monday.

  • Aspen School gets $3,000 grant

    Students at Aspen Elementary School got an early holiday gift when Wells Fargo Inc. and the Golden Apple Foundation announced the school won a $3,000 grant through the organizations’ “Teacher Partnership” program.
    According to Aspen Elementary School Principal Kathryn Vandenkieboom, Aspen third-grade teacher Alisa Rolfe led the quest to win the grant, and it will be money well spent.
    The school has earmarked the grant for some special reading kits that will help students in grades one through three catch up on their reading skills.
    “These are for when a kid isn’t quite at grade level,” said Vandenkieboom. “The instruction that comes along with this kit is very targeted. You know exactly what part of reading the student is having a hard time with, it might be fluency, it might be comprehension. This kit helps target that instruction.”
    Called Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention (LLI), the reading kits have been very beneficial to the school’s students, said Vandenkieboom, who became aware of the kits through recommendations from the teachers. With the grant, as well as help from a $1,500 contribution from the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation, the school will be able to purchase a kit for the third grade.

  • 'Reach' helps students cope

    For many high school students, high school is a fun and exciting time. Often, that time is marked with achievement, self-discovery and coming into one’s own.
    Unfortunately students also discover that those good things sometimes don’t happen without some rejection, failure and disappointments along the way.
    And some of those students become so overwhelmed by that they take their own lives.
    In the past three years, Los Alamos High School and the community at large has lost at least three students to suicide and those same years are marked with many unsuccessful attempts, as well.
    In response, there’s now a program called “Reach Toward Not Away.”
    Reach Toward Not Away was started last year by then Los Alamos High School senior Sophan Kellogg.
    Formed in the wake of the suicides by two Los Alamos seniors, the aim of RTNA was to extend an ever-present lifeline to students needing help getting through a difficult situation. The outreach program accomplished this through specialized apps, pledge drives, phone numbers, and other means of outreach and support.

  • LAPS ranked best school district in state

    This afternoon, Los Alamos Public Schools announced it had been named the top public school district in New Mexico by the U.S. Department of Education.

    Ratings, on a scale of 1-100, were taken from the Education department's Smart Ratings System. Los Alamos scored a 94 on the scale.

    According to the announcement, ratings wre based on math and reading proficiency, state assessment tests and other factors, such as student-teacher ratio.

    Los Alamos was ranked 14th among the top school districts in the nation with its score.

  • Game and parade are on Friday

    It is Homecoming week around Los Alamos High School this week.
    Celebrations will be capped off by the Homecoming football game scheduled for Friday night. The Los Alamos Hilltoppers will take on the Moriarty Pintos at Sullivan Field. Game time is 7 p.m.
    Friday’s game will be preceded by the annual Homecoming parade on Central Avenue. The parade will be at 2:30 p.m.
    To accommodate the parade, Los Alamos Public Schools will be dismissed early. Elementary schools will dismiss at noon Friday, Los Alamos Middle School will dismiss at 12:45 p.m. and Los Alamos High School at 1 p.m.