Magazine article District Administration

First Things First: This Superintendent Took on the Tough Task of Building a District from Scratch

Magazine article District Administration

First Things First: This Superintendent Took on the Tough Task of Building a District from Scratch

Article excerpt

There were scorpions, pigeons and snakes in Sue Cleveland's office when she became head of the newly created Rio Rancho district in 1994. There was also an old green Army desk, a broken filing cabinet and a loaner computer.

"What have I done?" Cleveland recalls thinking once or twice.

But most days what she 'had done' in taking the job was not nearly as important as what she needed to do. Since starting with 5,900 kids and several dilapidated buildings, Rio Rancho has grown to 13,000 students and added six new schools, with more to come. During Cleveland's tenure in the first new district in the state in decades, she's been part of other firsts, including Rio Rancho becoming the state's first charter district and a new high school graduating its first class.

First Up, Achievement

The scorpions and snakes were the downside; the upside was creating the 'Rio Rancho way.' Cleveland told the Albuquerque and Jemez Valley teachers who opted to stay in the buildings Rio Rancho acquired from these districts that while she hoped they would stay, changes were coming.

"If you don't want to do things differently and better, then this probably isn't the place you're going to want to be,'" said Cleveland, who left a South Carolina superintendency to return to her roots. New Mexico is not only her birthplace but also where her grandmother taught back when the territory gained state status.

Her vision of change has helped Rio Rancho mature into one of New Mexico's top five, 5,000-plus student districts in both English and math achievement last school year.

Continuous Progress

On Cleveland's mind as she rises each morning: "How can we do better for every single child?" This mantra of continuous improvement may sound familiar. It's the heart of the Malcolm Baldridge philosophy, and Rio Rancho is a Baldridge district.

"We're pretty good," says Don Chalmers, a local automobile dealership owner and education activist. …

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