Farmington parents voice concerns about school district's future

Joshua Kellogg
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A group of parents hosted a meeting Tuesday evening to discuss concerns about the future of the Farmington Municipal School District.

Residents filled Farmington High School's cafeteria to listen as parent Brad Campbell spoke on behalf of a group of concerned families about the number of freshmen students failing courses. Campbell, who has a freshman at Farmington High, also addressed how a district reorganization could benefit academics, athletics and activities.

No decisions were announced at the meeting, and Campbell said the gathering's goal was to start a conversation between the community and the district about how parents would like administrators to fix problems like students failing classes.

The meeting was mentioned in a text message that circulated through Farmington and Piedra Vista high schools last week. The message, sent from an unknown source with information that may or may not be accurate, speculated that the New Mexico Activities Association could move both high schools up a classification from 5A to 6A next school year. It mentioned merging the two schools as a possible solution.

The message also stated the district was looking at reorganizing into a new configuration that would make elementary school kindergarten to fourth grade; junior high fifth to seventh grades; middle high eighth and ninth grades; and senior high 10th to 12th grades.

In an interview Monday, Superintendent Gene Schmidt said administrators have not made any decisions about changing the district's organization nor about merging the two high schools. But, he said, the topic will be discussed as part of a strategic planning process that will start later this year.

The NMAA has not reclassified either high school, he said, but the district is monitoring enrollment figures to see if that could happen.

Schmidt attended Tuesday's meeting, as did president of the school board, Kyle Rhodes; Piedra Vista Principal Dave Golden; Piedra Vista Athletic Director Frank Whalen; Farmington High Principal Tim Kienitz; and Farmington High Athletic Director Don Lorett.

None of the administrators spoke during the meeting, but, at the end, Schmidt shared his contact information so parents could reach him.

Farmington High parents Jolea Herring and Misti Aragon said they attended the meeting because they received the circulating text message.

Aragon said she was worried a possible merger of the schools would limit the number of students who participate in sports. Herring wanted to find out whether district reorganization would affect advanced placement classes.

During his presentation, Campbell said about half of Farmington High freshmen have failed one or more courses. Schmidt confirmed Monday that about 45 percent of Farmington High students have failed a course as freshmen.

"The ninth-grade transition has to weigh huge into this entire process," Campbell said. "As a school system, we need to support the first-year students, the freshmen to help prevent this decline."

Campbell said information about the possible district reorganization came from a committee of teachers from both high schools who met for six months this year to address the freshmen course failure rate.

When a person in the crowd asked for a copy of that information, Campbell said a committee member gave it to him and the district would need to determine whether to release a copy.

A slide in Campbell's presentation stated reorganization would relieve overcrowding in elementary schools, and a fifth- through seventh-grade school would provide better "social connection" than the current sixth- through eighth-grade school.

The same slide also stated that an eighth- and ninth-grade school would provide a "true" freshmen academy and a 10th- to 12th-grade high school could provide a broader spectrum of academic choices.

Campbell said district reorganization was introduced during the long-range planning process before Piedra Vista opened in 1998.

During the meeting, Roger Shay said he was a member of the committee that decided to maintain two separate high schools. The committee spent about 15 months researching and touring high schools nationwide before coming to that decision, he said.

After the meeting, Shay said consolidating the high schools would not benefit Farmington, and it would harm athletics and activities.

"With 15 years of Piedra Vista and Farmington High being separated, we've gotten more grants and scholarship money because more people are able to participate in expertises and venues," Shay said.

After Campbell's presentation, the attendees separated into three groups to write down concerns to present to the school district.

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