Feb. 2011 Column

The final vote is in and - drum roll please – the blue Heizer Hornets are back!

You may recall that in last month’s column I asked the community to participate in an online survey. The question was whether to unify the city’s middle schools by having them all adopt the Eagle when the buildings open in August. The alternative was keeping the current mascots in place and, in the case, of Heizer, reverting back to the mighty blue hornet that symbolized the former junior high school for decades.

The public has spoken – at the top of its voice. Nearly 5,000 of you went online – (some, I suspect, multiple times), voting by more than a 2-1 margin to retain the old mascots. I found those numbers staggering.      Clearly there is an interest in preserving school traditions. For that reason, the Bears, Demons and Hornets will continue to decorate the hallways and letterhead of each of those schools and red, green and blue will be their colors.

Whew. That decision was almost the easy part. In the meantime, work continues behind the scenes to establish a middle school system and open a new Freshman High School next school year.

While budget concerns may have jeopardized the opening of Heizer early on, it now appears likely that state funding will allow us to open all three middle school campuses as originally planned.  Which doesn’t mean HMS won’t receive yet another cut from the New Mexico Public Education Department in the coming fiscal year. However, the money the district is scheduled to receive for an increasing number of students in our buildings this year will likely offset a cut that currently is projected at 1.5 percent.

 As a result, we are in the middle of staffing all three schools. A panel is currently interviewing candidates for the very important position of Heizer principal. In addition, sixth-grade teachers who will be moving to new school locations have turned in a survey of their building preferences.  In order to meet a goal of providing the same high level of education quality at all locations, middle school assignments will be made on the basis of teacher preference as well as experience.

Another concept we’re reviving is team teaching, an educational approach that unites teachers from different disciplines in tracking pre-assigned groups of students. These teachers will focus on our incoming sixth-graders, kids who currently are accustomed to a small number of peers and one or two teachers at most. The shift to multiple teachers and seven different classrooms in one day can be overwhelming. We believe the formation of these teams – comprised of teachers who see the students in class every day  - will increase a student’s sense of belonging and reduce the risk of his or her falling through the cracks.

Curriculum planning also continues, although I don’t foresee a huge shift in the classroom instruction for our middle school students. Core Knowledge, for example, will follow our sixth-grade students to middle school. Sixth-graders will continue to have the option of signing up for a grade level band class. And fine arts opportunities such as Missoula Theater will still be available along with new residencies. Likewise, sixth-graders will continue their current schedule of physical education classes – but they will not be eligible for the same after-school athletic teams open to seventh and eighth graders. This is a matter of simple economics.

In short, we’ve accomplished much as we turn our attention to the start of a new middle school system. But much remains. Stay tuned.


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