By Mary Alice Murphy

At the time of the meeting on Sept. 9, 2021, Romeo Cruz was interim Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce director. As of Monday, Sept. 13, he began as the new executive director.

Cruz welcomed everyone to the "long-awaited chamber luncheon."

He then introduced the guest speaker, Silver Consolidated Schools Superintendent William Hawkins, who said his purpose for the meeting was to convince everyone to vote for the bond issue renewal mill levy that provides for maintenance of the schools.

Hawkins said the mill levy was voted into statue by legislators in HB 33 and SB 9.

"Yes, the schools get regular state funding, but 89 percent goes to salaries and 11 percent to materials, supplies and the support system," Hawkins said. "What it doesn't pay for are the grounds, the electricity, the HVAC, plumbing and ADA upkeep. Silver Schools, with your help on the bond issues, has made sure to keep up its facilities."

Hawkins emphasized that a vote for the bond issue would not change tax rates. "It's just a continuation of the mill levy at a 1.5 mill levy per $1,000 of property value."

He also pointed out that the dollars go back into the pockets of local contractors. "When we go out for bid, whenever possible we choose local contractors, so it goes back into local pockets."

Former Chamber Director and now Director of the Grant County Workforce and Economic Development Alliance Steven Chavira asked: "What happens if the bond issue doesn't pass?"

Hawkins replied: "We would have to go into operating resources and then we would have to cut jobs, materials and supplies."

Chavira asked Hawkins in his first six weeks in Silver City "what are the best things you've encountered?"

"I have an amazing staff," Hawkins said. "I always brag about the respectful students we have. I had a 25-minute-long discussion with three students about Dungeons and Dragons. I saw some students with headphones on and I asked them what I should listen to. I said: 'Maybe next time.'"

He commented on how parents have reactions to the Covid restrictions. "The majority have been positive about it. The negative ones are more vocal, but the vast majority are just happy to have the kids back in school."

Hawkins noted that less than 50 students are still in hybrid mode. "We are dealing with an enrollment that is pretty stable, and we might get some more coming in. The numbers at the high school and middle school, I'm not ready to say we have an increase, but it is not fewer than the number of students we had last year."

Bruce Ashburn, PNM community manager, asked about how much the schools are getting from CARES.

"We are getting close to $3 million," Hawkins said. "We've sent out surveys to students and parents asking whether the funding should go to technology or to address loss of learning. Most answers so far have said loss of learning and asked if we are looking at Saturdays or after school for extra classes. I should think we will be going to after school programs."

He said ways the schools can address tech challenges is through MLSS (multi-level systems of support) and RTI (response to intervention), as well as SEL (social and emotional learning). "When we say special education, we aren't just talking about students with special needs.

Ashburn said he doesn't know a teacher who hasn't spent money out of pocket for supplies.

Misty Pugmire, El Grito Inc. director, said Hawkins should make sure all teachers have curriculums.

"If you know of any teacher who is struggling, send them to Cindy Barris," Hawkins said. "We have a scarcity of materials. Publishers stopped producing and printing textbooks and other accessory materials."

Trent Petty, Tyrone Community Fellowship pastor, asked where Hawkins most recently came from.

"Most recently, I was in Hobbs, before that in Brownfield, Texas," Hawkins said. "I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, but I was born in Tacoma, Washington."

He said he is working on guaranteed aligned curriculum development no matter what building a teacher is in. Phase 1 is the guarantee of high-quality education. "We provide time and support for every teacher and every kid. Right now, they are doing the best with what they have. José Barrios Elementary seems to be doing well. They are collaborating as a team with the teachers agreeing on what needs to be taught. There are some teams that are doing it very well."

Chavira asked about the staffing level.

Hawkins said the schools have three vacancies. "We need two paraprofessional instructional aides, for which they need only a high school diploma, and we have one special education teacher opening. There are no applicants to be found."

Chavira asked if Hawkins has a good pool of substitutes.

"We need a more committed group of substitutes that are high quality, retired teachers," Hawkins said. "Not only teachers but also cafeteria workers and other positions. We have five people providing 2,000 meals a day out of Stout Elementary. They are doing an amazing job. Everything is not normal yet. We're still wearing masks. And there are juniors who never got to be freshmen or sophomores in the building. They never got to socialize."

Katherine Convery of Elysium Solar Energy asked about emotional health of the students.

Hawkins said they have added two social workers. "Our priority is to educate students, but right now, we're focusing on their emotional and social education and health."

Chavira said maybe if "we can get through this year, it will be back to normal next year."

Hawkins said: "We will not be normal in January. We are trying to navigate a system to make it more resilient. We can't expect to be normal in January."

Pugmire said at El Grito Headstart, "we're trying to make life as normal as possible, but we have to deal with what comes down from the top. I'm trying to make sure not to pass on the stress of dealing with the bureaucracy to the staff and students. We're trying to use outdoor spaces."

Convery said she has two students in the schools. "Is there support for other activities, such as sports?"

Hawkins said some of the extra-curricular activities were already affected by happenings before Covid, but some are starting to take place.

Kaylee Ruebush, chamber administrative assistant, noted that students have to have the grades and the right attitudes to do sports.

Hawkins agreed that attitude is "huge. Let the coaches coach."

Cruz announced two things that have already taken place, a workforce solutions job fair and a statewide litter clean up pushed by Rep. Luis Terrazas. "I want to work with all businesses. Give me a call. My job is to connect people with people and people with information."

Karen Beckenbach of Community Concerts announced the first concert of the season would take place on Oct. 12.

Members stuck around to visit or headed back to their jobs.