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Posted June 1, 2011

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June 2011: Rio Grande sets example for everyone

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

It was an honor last month to shake the hands of thousands of new APS graduates as they walked across the stage at commencement into a world of possibility.

I know how hard these young men and women worked to get to this monumental moment in their lives. Standing among them reminded me why I’ve dedicated my career to public education.

Among those I admire the most are the graduates of Rio Grande High. Maybe it was my imagination, but the Ravens seemed to stand a little taller, smile a little bigger, cheer a little louder than most. Perhaps that’s because, despite a rocky start to their senior year, there they were, clutching diplomas, tossing caps in the air, moving on to college, careers and countless opportunities.

You likely recall the scheduling problems we had at Rio Grande at the beginning of the school year. Admittedly, mistakes were made and students lost precious instructional time. But nine months later, Rio Grande High graduated 89 percent of its seniors, a 13 percent increase from last year and a 33 percent increase from four years ago. And to top that off, RGHS graduating seniors were offered the highest amount of scholarships in the school’s history, in excess of $2.9 million.

You have to give these students credit for their success. They worked hard and they earned those diplomas. But their achievement also is a testament to the dedication and determination of the school’s teachers and staff, who refused to let grown-up errors impact learning.

When it became apparent that there were scheduling problems at Rio Grande, APS registrars, counselors, curriculum experts, special education experts and other professionals from throughout the district worked around the clock to fix the problem. They did a full audit of every transcript to make sure students were taking the classes they needed to get them on the path to graduation.

Even before students got their class schedules, teachers were teaching and students were learning at Rio Grande. I walked around the campus during this tumultuous period and witnessed kids in English classes reading literature and writing essays; in geometry classes measuring angles and plotting charts; in history classes reading about and discussing events that changed the world; in computer classes exploring new software.

Once schedules were in hand, the staff at Rio Grande, under the leadership of interim Principal Linda Sink (who also continued her duties as chief academic officer), worked one-on-one with students to make sure they were learning and earning credits. The school offered tutoring and make-up classes after school, in the evening and on Saturdays. Counselors enrolled students in online classes and provided access to school computers to students who didn’t have one at home.

Lots of extra hours were logged by teachers, counselors and administrators at Rio Grande to make sure students there got as good an education as they would at any school in Albuquerque. The results were apparent on that day in May when all but a handful of the class of 2011 graduated with their peers.

And for those who didn’t reach their goal of graduating on time, school officials continue to help them make up credits through summer school and online classes. Rio Grande expects almost all of its seniors to have diplomas by the end of the summer.

What an amazing group of kids, teachers, staff members and administrators. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t also recognize the role Rio Grande parents, the community and the APS Board of Education played in this success story.

It’s an example of coming together and turning a problem into an opportunity, a chance to exceed expectations. At Rio Grande, they made lemonade. And for that they should be commended.

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