• 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.

  • Aspen school renovations progressing at steady pace

     Recently, Superintendent of Schools Gene Schmidt, Aspen Elementary Principal Kathryn Vandenkieboom and others took a tour of Aspen Elementary School to see how the $12.4 million renovation of the school is progressing.
    The tour included the school’s new cafeteria, the administration area, the music room, the art room and perhaps the most anticipated part of the project, the school’s main hallway, a popular feature from the old school that helped several generations of Los Alamos residents create long lasting bonds with their teachers and made school a fun place to be.
    “The one thing the school wanted to retain was the hallway,” said Herb McClean, the construction coordinator for Los Alamos Public Schools. “The kindergartners would come, and they would have to walk down that long hallway to their classroom at the end. After being here for a year, they got to know the other teachers and they got to know them, so as they would really know the teachers as they moved back up the hallway as they progressed through the grades.”
    There will be 14 classrooms on the first floor of the hallway and 15 on top.

  • NMPED plans to simplify its evals

    A letter addressed to the Los Alamos Public School System from the New Mexico Public Education Department caused some excitement and, likely, some relief.
    The letter comes right in the middle of a special committee’s efforts to formulate an alternative proposal to NMPED’s teacher evaluation plan.
    The letter, which was from Matt Montano, the department’s Director of Educator Quality Division, seemed to suggest that NMPED is willing to streamline its evaluation process.
    The department apparently came to this conclusion after obtaining data from this year’s teacher evaluation process, the first full year the process has been implemented.
    “These updates are based on your feedback and lessons learned from year one of implementation,” Montano said in the letter. “They are data-driven revisions designed to streamline administrative efforts as well as to improve the NMTEACH process.”
    The letter then went on to list the revised guidelines, which include:
    • Districts and charters may conduct one observation for Highly Effective and Exemplary Teachers.

  • Science Bowl recognition

    State Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard (D – Los Alamos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Sandoval)) awards the Middle School Science Team recognition certificates for a job well done Tuesday night, ranking 16th in the nation over 4,000 teams in their division in the National Science Bowl, an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Pictured are David Gao, Steven Zhao, Sonyia Williams and Phillip Martin and their coach and teacher, Naomi Unger.

  • 'Keep the Promise' talks privatization in education

    “Keep the Promise,” a statewide affiliation of parent groups, businesses, and unions concerned with reversing the some of recent changes being made to the New Mexico public education by the New Mexico Public Education Department, held a public forum in Santa Fe this week.
    The topic was about the privatization and corporatization of certain facets of New Mexico’s public education system, and whether or not that is a good or bad thing.
    “We’d thought we’d start this conversation with a small group of people, talk about what’s happening here in Santa Fe, figure out what the facts are, talk about where this is going on a national level down to the state and into the classroom,” said Pat Brady, a moderator for many of the Keep the Promise events.
    Brady then introduced Charles Goodmacher, an official from the National Education Association New Mexico, who proceeded to frame the debate for the audience.
    Goodmacher started off saying that not all privatization in public schools is bad, in fact privatization he said plays a necessary part in the system through supplying vital services to less populated areas of the state. He also mentioned textbook companies as a necessary privatization.
    However, this new wave of privatization is different, he said.

  • Mills wins top AFT award

    Ellen Mills, President of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees was presented with the John O. Mitchell award at the State AFT Convention. The award is given for service to AFT New Mexico on behalf of public education and for exemplary and unselfish service as a representative of AFT and its goals to improve public education and enhance public school academic standards. John O. Mitchell was a middle school teacher in Albuquerque prior to becoming AFT State President. He was in a core group of union advocates working to improving terms and conditions of employment for educational employees. Later he became Educational Issues Director of the National AFT. The award was established in his name to honor other union leaders.