From Chromebooks to last-minute enrollments; districts face unique challenges to start school year

Education

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Ready or not, school is starting for students across New Mexico. So, how prepared are school districts? What are the unique challenges they’re facing starting the unusual school year?

Districts said every school year does come with some hiccups but this one is presenting some new challenges they haven’t faced before. For Albuquerque Public Schools, its biggest challenge right now is getting Chromebooks into the hands of all who need them.

Interim Superintendent, Scott Elder, said the district is working on getting about 68,000 Chromebooks to students. He said the process is taking longer than they hoped for simply because of the large scale of the task.

“What we had to do is break down computer labs at the school. And they all had to be wiped down and cleaned and then turned around back to schools for distribution and that’s a massive endeavor. So, I suspect there will still be some technology distribution going on through the first few days of school,” Elder said.

High school and middle school students in Rio Rancho Public Schools started on August 7. The district said that even though there are some hiccups with technology, students are logging on and engaging. Its biggest hurdle was handling last-minute decisions from families choosing between hybrid and virtual models for the year.

“There were still families that were kind of shifting back and forth as to which option they wanted to register for,” Bethany Pendergrass, Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer at Rio Rancho Public Schools, said. “As students and parents were kind of adjusting that, high schools and middle schools were rearranging schedules I mean, right up to the evening before. And so, that was a lot of work on the part of our administrations at all of the schools, at the two big high schools particularly, though. As you work through that and get all the students scheduled and the classes match their wants and needs.”

Santa Fe Public Schools, which starts on August 20, is facing a similar challenge. It is still working to get in touch with families to make a choice and enroll students in either hybrid or virtual learning for the entire school year.

“I don’t want the kids and the teachers to have to change. You know, whoever they start with at the beginning of the year, I want them to have the same teacher or teachers throughout the year,” Dr. Veronica Garcia, Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools said.

She said the district now has volunteers helping them call and connect with the parents of the 8,000 students that still need to be enrolled.

While the districts address these challenges, they also are acknowledging what parts of the new school year are going smoothly. All three said in terms of sanitation supplies, they are prepared. APS said it has enough sanitation supplies to last through December.

All three districts also said teachers are well prepared for the year, many undergoing professional development ahead of the unusual school year.

“Professional development, all kinds of webinars for teachers, principals, parents, yes, we are very ready,” Dr. Garcia said. “Our teachers come back tomorrow and we extended the professional development time and pushed out the start of school. So, teachers will have five days of planning and professional development.”

“Our teachers have a really positive attitude. They’re ready to make sure that our students have a successful school year,” Pendergrass said. “Some of the feedback on Friday that we were hearing from teachers is that they were excited for the school year, that it was going well, that students were logging in.”

Despite any challenges, the districts are facing and the unprecedented back-to-school season this year, districts are excited for students to be learning again.

“It’s the start of the school year and that’s always been an exciting time. And as weird as this is, it’s still exciting. It’s still about students and doing right by kids and helping them to learn and move forward in their lives. So, even though we’re in a strange platform, that’s what we’re going to do,” Elder said.

As of August 10, APS and SFPS had their reentry plans approved by the state’s Public Education Department. Rio Rancho Public Schools is still waiting to hear back.

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