Questa Del Rio News interviewed Questa Independent School District Superintendent John Maldonado about new employees, the district’s new technology company, job duties between the school board and the principals and safety procedures at the schools.
“We hired 14 new employees; eight at the elementary school, two new teachers at the high school,” Maldonado said. One applicant is also waiting to be confirmed as a high school history teacher.
The district has a new technology company, Elite Customer Centered Solutions of New Mexico, L.L.C. Maldonado noted this new tech company is much more communicative than the district’s previous company. Elite is in the process of upgrading the infrastructure including the schools’ fiber optics lines. They are also transitioning from Apple computers to Chromebooks.
Questa Del Rio News moved onto a more structural question regarding the different duties between the school board and school principals.
“The school board is in control of policy and budget,” Maldonado said. “So they approve policies and … our operational budget, as well as … big projects. Principals… do work on the handbook, things like that… as long as it follows school board policy…”
During the Aug. 3 board meeting the board voted to require transparent backpacks for all students. “It was a safety decision from our safety committee,” Maldonado said. “Last year, we had to bring in the dogs a few times to walk around the campus. That was with the Sheriff’s Department…. Especially with what happened in Texas, it prevents students from being able to bring things in with their backpacks.
“[Last year] we did searches of backpacks that led to suspensions. We want to avoid that. And I think our teachers and our staff felt like it gave them that ability to see, there might be a possibility of a student bringing in either drug paraphernalia, or some type of weapon. It gave them that feeling of ‘we feel like we’re okay with being able to see what’s inside these backpacks.’”
When asked about concerns about weapons and drugs, Maldonado said, “It’s probably more on the drug end. And, you know, and we did pass a policy to randomly test our student athletes. We were one of the few districts that hadn’t passed that; it had gone through a lot of other districts already; and so we brought it back to the table….
“Anytime there’s any type of school shooting, we start seeing the high security alert … so [the new safety policy] alleviates that fear and that worry of which students are really going to do that.”
Providing mental health support
“We have two counselors on staff, we have a social worker on staff,” Maldonado said. “And then we do contract out with Taos Behavioral Health, additional community support workers.… So that’s been a big part, keeping those counselors on board and keeping the communication with Taos Behavioral Health as well.”
QDRN: “What do you think is the biggest challenge for trying to get students to open up?”
“Biggest challenge is making that connection, both the teacher and counselor,” Maldonado said. “It’s making that connection. Ultimately a student is only gonna open up to you if they can trust you. And building that trust amongst students is always a big thing and that goes for everything. And sometimes you see students open up to coaches, to custodians to cafeteria workers to, whoever it may be, because they have built that trust with that student.
“We sent out about 12 teachers to a training in Las Vegas, Nev., and it really touched on that. It was social/emotional learning. A PhD brought that back to the rest of the staff and it changed my way of thinking. I was always thinking, well, we need to worry about curriculum and not worry about this. It brought me the understanding of what our kids go through, understanding that there’s more to life than just the school setting, and how we can relate. One of my teachers says, ‘The comment that I kept hearing is that our students are only going to respond to us if they can trust us and that if they feel that we’re respecting them then they can give us the same respect back.’ To hear the things that they brought back was really positive.”
Questa Del Rio News then pivoted to housing insecurity, to which Maldonado responded, “We have about 12 families that would be considered homeless and homeless is kind of a broad term that the state uses; if you have a student that sleeps on a couch outside of their own home for one night, that student now becomes considered homeless.
“But when we look at families… living outside of their homes… We look at struggles with water, electricity, things like that, some of these families have two-plus kids. So it impacts a number of our students. Our homeless liaison, her job is basically to get resources, it’s getting supplies, things that are needed in the house – blankets, even food, gift cards, vouchers… And there’s community resources that she reaches out to, and she works with [families] to try to help them get back on their feet….”
QDRN: “And this district is even providing housing in some cases.”
“So we provide housing for our staff,” Maldonado affirmed. “We have a couple of staff members who have come to us from out of the country so we provide housing for them. And then we have other staff members that have secured a job here but haven’t been able to secure housing. We do have a couple of teacherages [referring to district-provided teacher housing], and they do pay a little bit of rent that comes directly out of their paycheck. That’s an issue that we’re still working on with the Village, as well as the county, is to try to bring some additional affordable housing to the district. We’ve been working with other organizations to see if there’s any possibility of bringing additional housing for our employees.”
QDRN: “What’s the challenge with trying to bring something new to each new school year?”
“The biggest challenge is that sometimes change is hard…we got to look at the impacts that it’s going to have, not just on us as adults, but the impacts that it has on our students…We have to look at every impact that it has from the smallest to the biggest, anytime we make a change.
“Another one that we’re working on right now is putting a new playground in.… We knew that even ordering a playground beginning of the summer, getting that approved… we probably weren’t going to have it installed by the time the school year starts. So we had to look at the impact that that was going to have on our little kids.… Again, it was a safety issue. We had pieces of our playground that had been red flagged by our insurance authority, we wanted to make sure that those were safely removed. The biggest thing is looking in all directions and making sure that the negatives don’t supersede the positives. I think that’s been the biggest challenge.”
The full interview is available here: