High schools await possible sports classification change

Joshua Kellogg
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Farmington Municipal School District officials are examining their options as they wait for the New Mexico Activities Association to determine whether Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools will be moved up a classification from 5A to 6A for the next school year.

And they are trying to inform parents and others of the possible changes as a text message from an unknown source circulates with information that may or may not be true regarding the reclassification, which it says could include merging Piedra Vista and Farmington into a single high school.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt said the text message alleges Piedra Vista is moving up a class to 6A from 5A next school year.

The message states the district has looked into reorganizing the school district into a configuration with kindergarten to fourth grade as elementary, fifth to seventh grade as junior high, eighth and ninth grade as middle high and 10th through 12th grade as high school with Farmington High and Piedra Vista merging into one high school.

However there are concerns that the combined school would have one team, which would limit the opportunities for students to participate in sports as well as activities that include band and drama.

Schmidt said no decision has been made by the school board about changing the organization of district schools and merging the two high schools, but the topic would be included as part of a strategic planning process starting later this year.

"It's a conversation the district is open to having but I think we want to construct the right framework for the conversation," Schmidt said.

He said the high schools have not been reclassified by the NMAA but the district is monitoring enrollment figures to determine if the high schools might change classifications.

The message also lists a 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the Farmington High School cafeteria organized by community members to "push our school district as a community to make this happen."

Farmington High Principal Tim Kienitz said he didn't know who organized the meeting but district officials plan to attend to address concerns from parents.

Farmington Board of Education members during an Aug. 13 board meeting approved hiring ML Consulting out of Santa Fe to help develop a district strategic plan by May 2016.

Schmidt said the strategic planning process will begin in late October or November to gather community input through surveys and focus groups about how the community envisions the future of the school district.

Schmidt said he wants to honor the tradition of having two high schools in the community to give as many students as possible the chance to participate in activities and athletics.

Athletic directors for both high schools said they are closely monitoring the possible NMAA reclassification.

Farmington High Athletic Director Don Lorett gave a presentation to school board members during a June 11 meeting, stating it was quite possible both Farmington High and Piedra Vista might move to 6A based on their projected enrollment numbers.

"We knew something was coming," Lorett said.

The NMAA bases its classification of high schools on the three-year average of a high school's 40-day enrollment count and places the top 24 schools in 6A and the next 24 are placed in 5A, according to Piedra Vista Athletic Director Frank Whalen.

"I think there is a high likelihood that both schools will fall within the (top) 24 (high) schools," Lorett said. "I think one school might be the 24th school."

Lorett said the enrollment at Alamogordo and Deming high schools is projected to decrease, which might lead them to drop to 5A and push Farmington and Piedra Vista to 6A.

Whalen said NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez hopes to make a decision regarding classification for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years by December.

The minutes of the June 3 NMAA Board of Directors meeting states Marquez hopes the board members will vote on the classification/alignment proposal by December after receiving the 40-day enrollment counts from the New Mexico Public Education Department in November.

Schmidt said he anticipates the district's activities and athletics costs would increase if the classification changes to 6A. Most of the 6A schools are in the Albuquerque area.

Lorett said the possible reclassification is making it difficult to schedule games for the 2016-2017 school year.

"The schools that know they are 6A and are not changing, they are working on their schedule right now," Lorett said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.