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By Margaret Hopper

The Silver District school board met Tuesday evening, December 15, starting at 6:01 p.m. with all five members present: Arnold Torres, Chris Arvidson, Tony Egan, Mike McMillan and Frances Vasquez, board president.

Gilbert Helton, Grant County Emergency Manager, and Captain Rickie Villalobos, Silver City Police, informed the board of their findings on the October 19 High School Active Shooter Drill. Both stressed the level of cooperation the school and agencies were developing over the two-year period they had worked together.

Recalling the exercises and planning meetings, they agreed that the drill and training was a good one. Egan asked about command priorities; they responded that it was shared, and first arrivals would take command as they arrived. Locally, they were good at sharing. Gus Benakis. Assistant Superintendent, noted that the drill took place during fall break, so only personnel involved were present. Helton said future work would address evacuation of students and possible negatives; they still had work to do.

Nancy Stephens of Imagination Library explained the goals and benefits of the organization Dolly Parton, who grew up in a low-literacy part of Tennessee, founded to improve reading, especially in rural areas and places where reading levels were low. Starting from newborns to age five, children receive a book each month. Parents usually hold the child and start reading on the book's arrival.

Stephens said local studies were underway to assess the improvements the organization made here. One of the more exciting findings from other sources was that children who received this attention could enter school after the fifth birthday with vocabularies up to ten times greater than children who lacked this experience. She asked for referrals of additional youngsters and volunteers willing to help. Financial help was fine, too.

Bianca Padilla of the Probation Department and Jose Hernandez, truant officer, reported on the improved attendance rates. In 2014-15 the average attendance rate was 93.7 percent, and at present, it is at 95.01, which they hope to keep and improve upon through May. Hernandez said he had excellent help from school secretaries keeping records. All school personnel had been helping. They had worked on 190 referrals and 167 of those, 88 percent, had started complying after the first contact.

The other 12 percent, (23 students) required more intervention, visits and contracts, and a few, when all else failed, were taking the legal route with the district attorney's office. Padilla noted that they could move the process faster this year; they no longer had to wait until May to take certain actions. A few students have to be “tracked down” to learn if they transferred to other districts of if they simply didn't return. On home visits, stories may vary as to bruises, and when there is nothing to eat, they call in CYFD to check the kids. Over all, it appears that their work is successful, she said.

Speaking for SCEA, Leslie Fritz, NM-NEA union representative from Las Cruces, reported on conditions she said were pleasing, such as the National Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA, previously known as the No Child Left Behind, NCLB, The new one is the ESSA, Every Student Succeeds Act. Formerly, test scores determined if schools were succeeding. Now, there are many more measures to consider, such as access to counselors or school nurses, the arts or electives. She said it also moves some decision-making to the state and local levels.

Another change was an injunction granted by an Albuquerque judge, which puts a hold on any sort of punitive action being taken by the NM Public Education Department as “value-added scores” for teacher evaluations. She thanked Silver administrators who had helped in the process of getting this. Further, there were lawsuits in progress to remove those controls and return them to the local level.

Fritz said the local union had filed a Prohibited Practices complaint with the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board charging that the high school administration had interfered and discriminated in the work of the association (union) to legally conduct its business. At issue was an employee, who left her employment. And, if proven, that an order would be issued that such practices would stop. She handed out copies of the complaint to board members and press.

Under Information to the Board, Lon Streib, Superintendent, echoed Fritz's remarks that Silver, with Gus Benakis, assistant superintendent, in the lead, had protested the use of PARCC results in evaluating teachers. As one of the first districts to take the action, he said they had agreed with the union and were glad for its help in getting that practice stopped.

Excessive stressing of teachers didn't help, and the local district should be determining many of these assessment questions. Mandated standards were not necessarily better than what local systems could negotiate, he said. Further, only about six states were accepting the PARCC in its unaltered form, and how it would change shortly was anyone's guess. Something better and more valid could replace it. He then thanked Fritz for bringing up ESSA.

Benakis reported on the school map, saying he had made the boundary lines of various school zones more definite. He said every school now has an updated copy showing these zones, and the boundaries with other districts have also been better shown.

Candy Milam, another assistant superintendent, reviewed the 80-day enrollment figures. One major decline was in pre-kindergarten, 31 last year, 16 counted this year, which made a huge difference in funding, she said. The overall gain from the 40th day this year to the 80th, was 15 students; from 2872 to 2887. Both Cliff and Stout have increased.

This week saw senior testing for graduation finishing. End of Course exams count toward graduation, and science testing and PARCC for language arts and math are finishing up this week. She thought between 130 and 140 tests had been completed at this time.

Vasquez chose to speak on ROTC in her report, saying someone in the American Legion wanted to see a unit in Silver High, especially from the Air Force. She would follow up on the idea. As Egan had offered a different evaluation instrument for evaluating the superintendent, she asked for comments. Egan said Trish Martinez, the third assistant superintendent, had offered comments and additional information on one she thought might be even better, so he said the board should consider her ideas.

Egan's comment was on the public input portion. He said the caution was when accusations were made and unverified information was given, or the chain of command was ignored, as such things were inappropriate. That needed to be prevented. Or, as Torrez had suggested, have a forum to bring in other information. If the inappropriate behaviors continue, something must be done. This must be discussed.

Vasquez commented that this was presented as a first reading on a proposed policy change. McMillan asked if the present policy could be continued. Egan said if people could do that, fine, but if not, something had to change the situation. Streib said there might be other options, such as taking some of these questions and openly addressing them, but there would have to be a structure for it.

Vasquez said, as it was now a first reading, asking that the second comment period be “limited” by board policy, they might need to define what “limited” meant. More discussion followed; Vasquez said Deming had made changes; she could check that out; McMillan said Los Alamos also had, and there might be ideas there. They would bring it up again at the next meeting.

A 15-minute comment period followed, to be limited to items on the agenda. Vasquez was careful to caution people not to attack people or be disrespectful. Sharon Bookwalter said she would speak to the possibility of losing public comment, and Egan's calling Lucy Montoya's comments irresponsible and reckless was accusatory.

As to the Sun-News retraction about the Lougee/Montoya and the Montoya scholarship fund, she said the writer said the second article was not a retraction, but a response at the request of Mr. Streib. Regarding a failure to follow the chain of command, there was no chain of command for the public. In summation, she said there were attempts to silence the public to avoid scrutiny, which Mr. Egan and Mr. Streib seemed to fear.

Streib countered, saying Mrs. Montoya wrote him an email asking to be on the agenda. He said he emailed her back, asking her to come to the office and talk, which she never did. Bookwalter answered that Mrs. Montoya said she called many times, leaving messages with Mrs. Estrada (secretary). Her calls were not returned.

Guadalupe Cano said she understood frustration. Board members were going to go through an election and people would remember that they were not allowed to speak. They needed to listen. To Egan's idea that the board president and superintendent could hold meetings, she knew that the president was listening continually. Others needed to be listening.

Torres responded that he was listening constantly. It was not a fair statement to say he wasn't listening. Others did their job, too, whether she thought so or not.

Kyle Johnson, media, said he was appalled that at another meeting he heard about limiting public comment. If public comment was limited or eliminated, board members would get bounced out of their seats. There were consequences; dozens of people knew what was going on here, from the top down.

On the consent agenda, Streib said he recommended they approve the expenditures and BARs. The budget adjustments included a $6890 one for the autism project and one to Montoya Transportation, for monthly payments. This year's allocation for the bus was $19,806, paid through June, the end of the fiscal year. The state will have another 3 years of reimbursement for the bus.

The November expenditures totaled $2,293,629.71. He noted that credit card expenses were half of what they were at this period last year, $33,048; $11,000 from trust funds and $20,647 from operations. This was approved. Benakis received approval for his per capita feeder routes under another vote.

Policy advisories were also approved—No. 118 was on service animals at school, No. 119 covered graduation requirements, and the Verizon Wireless, LLCadvisory, concerned approval of the lease arrangements resolution.

All passed. At that point, Vasquez declared a short break, beginning at 7:48 and reconvening at 7:53.

The January meeting is scheduled for the 19th at 6:00 p.m. On February 11-12-13 the NMSBA board institute will be held in Santa Fe.

The second round of public comments included Linda Pafford, Kyle Johnson, Sandy Maciel and Lucy Montoya. Pafford said she was dismayed about the limitation of comments proposed... Control of content before the spoken content could rise to the level of censorship... discussions might be good, but they didn't replace the open comments. (Communication failures) required that Lucy Montoya come to the board... limiting public access to the board could put all public communications in the hands of one man.

Vasquez restated her admonitions of not threatening or attacking someone as she called Johnson to speak. Johnson questioned the existence of the policy in a document. He said he had checked and could not verify the policy and challenged it, and called it null and void. He claimed hostility and interruption at a meeting, questioning his topic about a Confederate flag. He called racism, white supremacy and slavery evils, saying that the symbol displayed it. He said he wanted to hear how it would be remedied.

Sandy Maciel said she came as a parent, wanting to protect her child's rights after a wrongful accusation and search. Nobody had called her. That was not accountability. She wanted a policy and space before the board at its next meeting. Vasquez told her the procedure.

Lucy Montoya was back to assert her situation and say she had not been able to meet with administrators, so she chose to come to the board meeting and speak. She said she had no other choice.

Streib asked her if she knew that four scholarships had been given out, to Josh Amador, Pai Marquez, Seth Moreno and Sabrina Thieuraf. She said she was aware, and there were still funds left over.

The next action was to vote to go into closed session at 8:14, where the board would discuss limited personnel matters (staffing) and attorney/client privilege litigation, regarding SCEA.

The board came out of closed session at 9:15, having made no decisions, and adjourned.

Live from Silver City

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