Belen Middle School principal put on leave

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A Belen Consolidated Schools principal was placed on paid administrative leave earlier this month due to allegations that she was not following district policy and procedures.

Superintendent Ron Marquez said Belen Middle School Principal Sheila Armijo was put on leave late in the week of Aug. 11.

Marquez said there were allegations that Armijo was not following procedures correctly, but would not delve too far into the specifics of those allegations, saying it was a personnel issue.

The superintendent did say that it was a combination of issues, one of which involved a professional development day Armijo took. An Albuquerque news station reported that the date of a professional development trip Armijo went on changed after board approval, which was against district policy.

"I know it was attributed to me, but I don't know where they got that information," Marquez said Wednesday morning. "Since it's out there, I will say one of the allegations involves professional development.

"In fairness to the staff at the school, the students, the community and Ms. Armijo, we need to wait until the completion of the investigation."

Marquez said the investigation will hopefully be concluded in the next two weeks.

Jennifer Brown, the human resources director for the district, emphasized that there were only allegations at this time.

"We will investigate but until then, nothing is certain; innocent until proven guilty," Brown said.

The superintendent said he wanted to assure the community and parents that the allegations against Armijo were not criminal in nature and had nothing to do with her interaction with students.

During Armijo's absence vice principal Richard Tafoya is taking the lead at BMS and is joined by licensed administrator Barbara Rodriguez, who is currently the district's coordinator of aquatics.

The suspension of the principal so near the beginning of the school was particularly bad timing, Marquez said, as BMS had a bit of a bumpy start to classes.

Late in the summer, there was an initiative at the middle school to introduce block scheduling for English and math classes, which essentially doubles the length of those classes.

"For instance, you would have a math class and then the lab immediately after," Marquez said.

Brown said the block schedule was put on paper, into a scheduling matrix, and everything looked good. Unfortunately, the plan didn't translate well to actual student schedules.

"When we started scheduling students in, we had some classes with five students and some with 50 or 60," she said. "It was a design flaw and there just wasn't enough flexibility to move students to other classes."

To move students out of the overloaded block classes meant rearranging two other class periods, Marquez said.

When staff and administration realized the block scheduling wasn't going to work, Brown said the district's curriculum directors spent about 20 hours the weekend before the first day of school rewriting the entire matrix.

When students arrived at BMS on Aug. 18, they all had a schedule for the core classes — math, English, social studies and science, Marquez said. Some students had blank spots, some had a full schedule, Brown added.

"The first day of school, we had about a dozen administrators on site working on every student's schedule that day," Brown said.

The students, like most other middle schools, reported to their first period class, their advisory class. Since schedules were still not nailed down, students remained in their advisory class for the first day, Brown said.

"We took that opportunity to make that day an orientation day," she said. "Teachers went over the handbook, students got a tour of the campus and were able to do some ice breaker activities to get to know other students. Here in Belen, our seventh-graders are coming from all the other schools so they don't all know each other.

"The whole purpose of having an advisory class is for students to have at least one adult on campus they are comfortable with. This just gave them more time with that teacher."

By Tuesday, the second day of classes, all the students had schedules, Brown said.

"That day students were given a form for any schedule changes they wanted to make, which is typical in middle schools. Maybe someone was placed in chorus and wants to be in wood (shop)," she said.

Marquez said on Tuesday he received two calls from parents about the scheduling.

"One parent did call back and said it was taken care of," he said.

Brown, the parent of a middle-schooler herself, said her son told her he enjoyed the orientation day, since he was new to the school.

"He was pleased with the schedule he had on Tuesday," she said.

Marquez said the TV news report also raised the issue of missing test scores, but he didn't know which scores were being referred to.

"Let's just say the SBA scores were missing. All we have to do is call PED and ask for the information," he said.

Brown said she was a bit taken aback by the complaint, since she had a physical copy of all the middle school students' SBA scores literally in her hand on the first day of school, which she spent at the middle school.

"Maybe there was a case where we were waiting on scores for a new student who had transferred in," she said. "We can't schedule them in until we get the scores. But I will say our IEP facilitator at the middle school hand scheduled all of the special needs students there. She was happy with the schedules on Tuesday."

The students weren't the only ones who had scheduling uncertainty, Marquez said.

"The teachers had to adjust as well. Some were planning to teach four classes and had to go to eight," Marquez said. "The principal being put on leave had nothing to do with the scheduling issues — it was just bad timing."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.