Dr. Sue Cleveland has been the superintendent of Rio Rancho Public Schools since 1994 when the district opened. Born in Albuquerque, Cleveland graduated from Sandia High School and got her undergraduate degree at the University of New Mexico. She received her master’s at New Mexico State University and her Ph.D. at the University of Houston before moving to South Carolina, where she was superintendent of schools in Cherokee County.
Rio Rancho Public Schools went from 5,900 to 17,000 students in roughly 20 years. As of the 2016-2017 school year, Rio Rancho Public Schools has 17,082 students. It is also the only district among the largest five New Mexico school districts to receive a B grade. The district’s budget that year was $180.7 million, according to the New Mexico Public Education Department. Albuquerque Public Schools has 91,426 students, a C grade and a budget of $1.09 billion.
Education and the economy are intrinsically intertwined. An educated workforce can help lead to a strong local economy — and a workforce that’s not well-educated can hurt economic growth. That’s why we sat down with Cleveland to talk about education in New Mexico.
What brought you to the field of education in the first place? To be perfectly honest, there were really few options that most women considered when I was starting my career. My grandmother had been a one-room school teacher when she was young and she always encouraged me to consider education. I tried nursing as a summer job and I found that was not my calling. I did consider the U.S. Foreign Service, but found myself marrying someone who wasn’t too excited about that possibility.
When you started your position at Rio Rancho, what was on your list of changes to make? The first challenge was to create a new school district. Rio Rancho was divided right down the middle between the Jemez Valley School District and Albuquerque Public Schools. The charge that I was given was to create a new school district that was high performing and which would support other efforts to create a more unified and cohesive Rio Rancho community.
When we opened the doors we had seven facilities and five more were needed the day we opened as a new district — July 1, 1994. We had buildings seriously overcrowded, such as Lincoln Middle School, which had 1,450 students in a building constructed for 850 students. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of our students were in portable buildings.
The second necessity was to develop processes and procedures for a new district, as the two former districts were very different in many respects. It took some time to develop the “Rio Rancho” way. In addition, most of our leadership were also new and had come from across the country or from other professions.
Another priority was to study how RRPS could build its first high school. At the time, we were a K-8 district. We had high school students scattered across the metro area. Most of our students were at Cibola (those south of Southern) and students living north of Northern Boulevard were being bused to Del Norte. Other students were at Jemez Valley, etc. We were created as a K-8 district because the state believed it would take us at least 10 years to meet the K-8 needs before we could consider a high school campus.
What do you count as your biggest achievement so far in your career at Rio Rancho? Pulling together a great team of personnel who have done a lot with a district that is one of the lowest per-pupil funded districts in NM.
The achievement that I believe created the largest impact on the district was the agreement between Sandoval County, RRPS, city of Rio Rancho and Intel that allowed Intel to construct the district’s first high school in 1997 — only three years after we had opened the district. From that point forward, there was never any doubt that the district would survive and flourish.
What have you found works in bettering test/school scores? A quality teacher who has strong content knowledge, as well as an understanding of what works in terms of teaching and learning with young people.
Effective and stable educational leaders, both administrators and teacher leaders, are critical for supporting a culture of learning.
A curriculum that is aligned to standards and then implemented with fidelity.
A clear understanding of the data that helps teachers know where students are performing at a given point in time and solid indicators of how much students are progressing over time.
Professional development on best practices, as most people are doing the best they know how to do.
Providing sufficient resources for teachers and students to be able to individualize learning for each student.
Albuquerque Public Schools
Ranked by reading proficiency percentage
Rank School name reading proficiency percentage 1 Desert Willow Family School 82.0% 2 North Star Elementary 74.0% 3 Hubert H Humphrey Elementary 73.0% View This List
Dr. Sue Cleveland has been the superintendent of Rio Rancho Public schools since 1994 when the district opened.