School looks to its future

By Tony Parra: PNT Staff Writer

New Mexico legislators took a look at what could be the future of public education when they took a tour on Wednesday of facilities which will be used for the online courses at Portales High School.
Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) and the senate majority leader, Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) and Rep. Brian Moore (R-Clayton) met with Portales Schools administrators to view the facility which will house the online courses and the facilities which will be used for the Broad Horizons Educational Center students.
Rep. Keith Gardner (R-Roswell) said he plans to take a tour of the facility and meet with administrators on Wednesday.
“I had concerns about the ethics since it has never been done before.” Gardner said. “What are the results? If it doesn’t work the money can go elsewhere to other programs, but I think we have good people in Portales who will be running it.”
Gardner was able to attain $50,000 through the Legislature for the program. He said the $50,000 will be given annually.
Portales High School will start offering online classes in August so students can take core classes, such as English, math, science and history from home.
“We’re on the edge of technology,” Moore said. “This allows home-schooled kids get an education. Some students in rural areas don’t have access to certain classes. This will give them the opportunity to take those classes.”
Portales High Principal Melvin Nusser has said the program provides students the option of a different classroom setting to learn and will also give home-school students the opportunity to earn a PHS diploma.
Kernan asked about the capabilities of the student’s personal computers from home.
Director of Technology Mike Rackler said that would depend on the speed of the students’ individual Internet service and their computers. The Internet service will be through Yucca Telecommunications, Rackler said, and a software program called Tegrity will be used. Rackler said the speed will be determined by whether students have dial-up Internet or some other capability.
“The first few weeks we’ll bring children in for training,” Rackler said. “We’ll also have 40 loaners (computers) for the program.”
The instruction is pre-recorded and students can communicate with their teachers electronically, Nusser said. Nusser said school administrators decided to have only audio with the presentation and not video to prevent problems with slow loading times.
State-mandated tests will be completed on campus, and teachers may require some tests to be completed on campus. The students will still be required to have a two-hour homeroom session for a minimum of four weeks to help monitor the students from Monday through Thursday at the start of the semester.
“I think it’s a great program,” Ingle said. “We’ve got good people who are thinking ahead — a good administration that looks at new ideas and has the guts to go forward.”
James Holloway, superintendent of schools, said legislators have helped bring money for renovation of the auditorium and the online program. Holloway said the construction on the building which will have the online courses and BHEC classes is ahead of schedule. He said the construction will be completed by the early summer.
“I can’t tell you enough how much our legislators have helped us,” Mike Miller, lobbyist and city councilor, said. “Our legislators are in a great position to help the schools, county and city. They’ve responded to our needs.”