“Students First” policy guided T or C schools superintendent’s first year

by Luis Rios | July 7, 2021
9 min read
Segura in her TCMS office, where she displays, among other achievements, her diploma from Capital High, a 2014 Excellence for Student Achievement Award from the New Mexico School Boards Association and a 2016-2017 Outstanding Leadership Award from the Capital High Lady Jaguars Photograph by Luis Rios

From her decision to open recruitment for every principal’s position in the Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools to implementing new curriculum strategies, Channell Segura has made prioritizing students’ needs the touchstone of her superintendency.

“I’ve always had high expectations of all students,” Segura told the Sun. Including of herself.

Now completing her first year as the superintendent of the Truth or Consequences Municipal Schools, Segura earned her doctor’s degree in educational leadership and administration in 2018 from the University of New Mexico while working full time as a principal and then as assistant superintendent in the Santa Fe Public Schools.

“We are in the business of helping, supporting and providing opportunities for all kids,” she said, describing her philosophy of education, developed over a 17-year career that began with her employment as an English teacher in the Santa Fe high school from which she had graduated.

“They built schools for kids, not for teachers and parents,” she added. “So, thinking about ‘Students First’ goes into every decision that I make.”

“GUTSY” REVIEW OF SCHOOL BUILDING LEADERS

One of the most important decisions the 41-year-old educator has made since her hiring as TCMS superintendent last July was to open recruitment for every principal’s position in the district. “It was a decision that I made in order to meet the strategic goals the board has set,” Segura said. The pandemic had also given her the opportunity to see who would “rise to the challenge” of being able to lead their school in a new direction that prioritized students.

Board of Education Vice President Barbara Pearlman, a former teacher at Hot Springs High School, called it a “gutsy” decision. “For her to want to look for the best possible administration for our students,” Pearlman said. “She was really putting a lot on the line.”

Kristen Boren, an art teacher at Hot Springs High School, also praised Segura for her courage, while observing that “there probably was no better time to rebuild and reorganize things than when everything was kind of turned upside down from the pandemic.”

Board of Education President Brett Smith said that, from the time the board chose Segura as superintendent, she has shown a deep understanding of what the district needs.

“As a school district, we’re willing to look at whatever changes we need to make it better,” Smith said.

Segura acknowledges that not automatically renewing the contracts of every principal in the district “did create some sense of disappointment on their [the principals’] behalf, and I completely understand and empathize with them.” She emphasizes that no one was fired, since sitting principals were allowed to reapply.

Former principals Ryan Peil (Hot Springs High), Serjio Cardona (Arrey Elementary) and Samuel Constant (T or C Middle) decided to leave the system, the superintendent confirms.

Segura appointed a committee of three teachers and staff members at each school to interview and rank those who chose to apply.

Late last month the district announced that the following individuals had been hired to fill the position of principal or assistant principal in its schools:

  • Hot Springs High School Principal: Ava Rebecca Bartoo
  • Hot Springs School Assistant Principal: Susan Conrad
  • T or C Middle School Principal: Patty Goode
  • T or C Middle School Assistant Principal: Shirley Muncy
  • T or C Elementary and Sierra Elementary Complex Principal: Carol Bolke
  • T or C Elementary and Sierra Elementary Complex Assistant Principal: Tracy Stout Cole

Bartoo, appointed Hot Springs High School principal, was previously assistant principal at the high school. Segura said Bartoo was chosen because of her experience with the school. “The consistency of having somebody there who knows the school, students, staff and how it functions was a benefit to her,” the superintendent explained.

Tracy Cole, now assistant principal for T or C Elementary School and Sierra Elementary Complex, used to be the principal of Sierra Elementary Complex. Carol Bolke, formerly a special education teacher at T or C Middle School, will serve as principal for both elementary schools, an appointment Segura made to best utilize available human resources. The proximity of the two campuses will enable what Segura hopes will be a collaborative leadership effort. 

CONSTRUCTIVE CHANGES AT ARREY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

In a July 1 press release, the district announced that a “viable candidate” could not be found for the position of dean of school support for Arrey Elementary School.

The school will be co-led by two teachers, Pamela Ruffini and Robert Placencio, who will remain in the classroom while acting as “liaisons” to the central office for the 2021-2022 school year.

“In order to make sure Arrey Elementary School is ready for a smooth school reopening, and without strong viable candidates in the pool, it is necessary and timely to utilize the available resources and human capital within the district to plan and prepare,” Segura stated in the release. She now believes that Arrey Elementary is in “good hands.”

Last year Segura visited every public school in the county, believing her presence sends a beneficial message to the students and teachers. She made a special point of going to Arrey Elementary, having heard from the town’s residents that they felt ignored by TCMS.

“Proximity-wise, Arrey is outside of the district so that it oftentimes gets overlooked or works [in isolation] in its own silo,” Segura observed. “My goal is to make sure that they feel included.”

To that end, she took steps to have Arrey Elementary follow the same calendar as the rest of the district. Because the school previously operated on a different calendar, its teachers were not always able to attend TCMS meetings, professional development activities or school district events with educators from the other schools in the county.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT INITIATIVES

Segura’s interest in teachers and teaching dates back to childhood.

“When I was a little girl, I would pretend I was a teacher,” she remembered. “I would set up my dad’s buckets from his construction company—he also had a chalkboard—and I would pretend I was a teacher with the buckets as my students. I’ve just always loved education.”

After graduating in 2003 from UNM with a bachelor’s degree in English and dance, she became a teacher at her alma mater, Capital High School, in her hometown of Santa Fe. Eight years later she was appointed the school’s directing principal.

“As a teacher, you see things that create inequities in schools or see certain groups of kids not getting opportunities,” Segura said. “That bothered me, and I thought to myself that if I was a principal, I could break down these barriers that prevent kids from being successful.”

Segura had been, she notes, the first teacher in the state to apply Advancement Via Individual Determination’s real-world strategies for student achievement in her classroom. In 2018 she left her new position as the Santa Fe school system’s assistant superintendent to become the New Mexico Program Manager/Western Region for the AVID Center.

She accepted TCMS’s job offer in 2020 because she “just missed being in schools, with students and with teachers—that really my passion.” Segura’s energy, experience and drive to improve the district were the reasons she was chosen, according to Board Vice President Barbara Pearlman.

Segura plans to incorporate AVID’s college and career readiness program into the curriculum of every school in the district. “I know its benefits and I know it helped my students throughout the years in providing them with the skills to be successful after they graduated high school,” Segura said.

TCMS teachers and principals are being trained this summer to understand AVID’s focus on leadership, instruction and culture. About 13 districts in New Mexico utilize AVID, according to a “New Mexico Snapshot” on not-for-profit organization’s website

Following her mantra of “Students First,” this summer the district offered acceleration programs to students who had the “greatest gaps in learning either due to the pandemic or just from years of being behind.” She said literacy and numeracy data collected about participating students will be presented at the July 14 board of education meeting.

Last school year the district surveyed students and parents about the kinds of electives the wanted the system to offer and received about 800 responses. This year the district will unveil electives in the medical field and health care at the middle school and high school.

“Flex Friday” is another of Segura’s curricular innovations. “If kids are doing well in school and they want to do work study, an internship, participate in extracurricular activities or just stay home and do homework, they’ll be able to do that on that day,” the superintendent explained.

Flex Fridays will also allow teachers time to reevaluate teaching strategies. “Teachers will have to be in school,” Segura noted, “but they’ll be collaborating with one another in grade level teams to plan lessons, look at student work, calibrate the work and participate in professional learning opportunities.”

To demonstrate their approval of the superintendent’s leadership, board members granted her request to add an extra year to her three-year contract, Board President Brett Smith said.

“We want to support her to the best of our ability,” Vice President Pearlman confirmed, “and give her the time to try to implement what she wants to do.”

Segura summarized her goals by once again prioritizing the needs of students. “We are looking at what the kids want to do and how do we engage them in school,” she said. “How do we make sure they want to come to school, feel special, feel cared about and know they are important?”

UPDATED ON JULY 16: Data from the Truth or Consequences Municipal School’s 2021 Summer Acceleration Program, as well as additional information about Flex Friday, was presented at the board of education’s July 12 meeting.

Superintendent Channell Segura presented data documenting the improvements in numeracy and literacy achieved by the participants in the district’s three-week 2021 Summer Acceleration Program. Students worked for 90 minutes each day in the areas of mathematics and reading. Elementary students utilized iStations, which measures their academic growth in mathematics and reading. Middle school students used Edgenuity My Path courses, an online program that optimizes learning interventions.  

The 23 students from Arrey Elementary School increased more than 6 percent in math skills and about 5 percent in reading skills. The 52 students from Truth or Consequences Elementary and Sierra Elementary increased their reading achievement by an average of more than with 8 percent and just below a 7 percent average in math.

The 42 middle school participants overall completed 30 percent of their math and reading Edgenuity courses, while receiving, on average, final grades of 80 percent in both.

“Our students did a phenomenal job working this summer to increase their achievement,” Segura said. “I want to thank our teachers who volunteered; they obviously were compensated but that’s still taking time away from their families. So, I want to just thank you [teachers] from the bottom of my heart for putting yourself out there, welcoming our kids every day and making them feel special during these three weeks of summer break.”

Segura said that parents must sign a permission form on the TCMS website for their child to participate in Flex Friday. To be eligible, students from any grade level must have an “average of a C or better in all subject areas or courses within the Schoology learning management system,” the superintendent explained.

—Luis Rios

author

Luis Rios is the Sun’s summer intern.

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"Bulldogger" by John Stermer

John Stermer Retrospective Exhibition
Through December 9
McCray Gallery, Western New Mexico University
1000 W. College Avenue, Silver City

This exhibition features the paintings and prints of one of Silver City’s most accomplished citizens. John Stermer studied art for 20 years in New York, Paris and Barcelona before moving to Silver City in 1959 to work in a mine. Ten years on, he suffered health problems and retired from hard labor. He spent the the two decades painting, teaching and introducing several genres of art to this region.

Stermer’s striking and appealing paintings of southern New Mexico leave an impression on most who enjoy fine art. His life story is also fascinating, and the exhibition will cover his biography from his birth in 1920 to his death in 1991 and illuminate his impact on the region as a New Mexico Arts Commissioner and president of the Silver City Arts Council during the 1980s.

Click here to learn more about Stermer’s life and preview examples of his work, which will be available for sale during the exhibition.
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Reader Jack Noel of Truth or Consequences commented: During the past couple of summers, when the river was running and people were flocking to our community to raft down it, I wrote letters imploring our city commission and “Main Street” to act. I asked them to recognize the economic benefit that this ride down the cool river would bring. I asked them to cater to these folks, who were telling us what they wanted, by painting over the graffiti on the bridge, providing trash containers and to periodically show a police presence to reassure the safety of vehicles left behind.

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3 thoughts on ““Students First” policy guided T or C schools superintendent’s first year”

  1. I was under the impression that Arrey was extremely happy about their “year-round” school schedule and so was unhappy to hear that they are losing that. It seems like if it is “students first,” then they should have been allowed to continue and an effort should have been made to allow that, but also make it so that the parents did not feel ignored.

    Keeping “students first” means to allow flexibility.

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