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Artesia Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton, seated, receives a standing ovation from the APS Board of Education Monday following the announcement of his impending retirement. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

In a surprise announcement at the end of last night’s Artesia Public Schools Board of Education meeting, Dr. Crit Caton, superintendent, announced he will be retiring at the end of this school year.

Caton fought back tears as he read aloud a letter addressed to the board, thanking them for “allowing me to work in the best school district in the state of New Mexico.”

“I truly appreciate the support that each of you have given me over the past eight years,” Caton said.

He went on to thank his administrative staff as well as all employees of the district.

“You give true meaning to the term ‘professional educators,’” he said.

Caton thanked the citizens of Artesia as well his wife and children for “allowing me the opportunity to be an educator for the past 33 years.” He said he will assist the board over the next several months during the transition process.

“The Artesia Public Schools district will continue to be a shining star for public education in the state Of New Mexico,” Caton said.

The longtime educator and administrator says he will be taking on the role of executive director at a private foundation in Artesia following his retirement from the APS.

“I’m sure you’re aware that we are not very pleased with your announcement, but we will accept it,” Lowell M. Irby, school board president, said.

The board of directors then set forth the parameters for seeking Caton’s successor, beginning with accepting applications for the position from within the district. A special meeting will be held before Christmas to review applications and interview applicants. The board hopes to fill the position as soon as possible so that the new superintendent will have ample time with Caton before taking over the helm.

In other business Monday, the board received a construction update from Huitt-Zollars Architects on the progression of the Artesia Aquatic Center and recognized Jennifer Duff, Park Junior High School librarian and photography teacher, as November’s Tate Branch Success Maker award recipient.

Jennifer Duff, librarian and photography teacher at Park Junior High School, holds a bouquet of flowers after being chosen as the Tate Branch Success Maker award recipient for the month of November at Monday’s meeting of the Artesia Public Schools Board of Education. Joining Duff are, from left, Camilo Romero, general manager of Tate Branch Auto Group – Artesia, Tate Branch, Cassidy Branch, and APS Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

Duff was presented with a check and a bouquet of roses.

“Mrs. Duff is so kind and nice to every single kid,” said Park principal Cody Skinner. “She is an amazing teacher, the kids love her, the staff loves her, she goes above and beyond every day; I can’t think of a more deserving teacher to receive this award.”

“Thank you very much; Artesia Public Schools is a great place to work,” Duff said. “I love my job and appreciate the opportunity to share my love of photography.”

The board also received a report from Assistant Superintendent of Personnel and Student Services John Ross Null on the APS district report cards received from the New Mexico Public Education Department. The district received a C, a grade that is determined by averaging the grades of all 10 APS schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Thad Phipps received the board’s approval to purchase the home and adjacent property at 902 and 904 W. Richardson Ave. for $167,000. The home will be used as a teacherage for the APS with no immediate plans for the adjacent property.

Phipps also received the board’s approval to purchase security laminate to cover the windows on all front entrances of all schools in the district from Safe Haven Defense, LLC, in the amount of $104,325.80. The laminate is designed to reflect or defer gunfire in the security vestibules.

“The sad part is that we are having to do this,” said Irby, “but whatever we can do to prevent an incident is well worth the money spent.”

Caton announced the resignations of Joley Deerman, language arts teacher at Zia Intermediate School, Georgianna Dougherty-Gray, library assistant at Hermosa Elementary School, and Monica Mariscal, educational assistant at Grand Heights Early Childhood Center, as well as the hiring of Kaccy Garthwaite, special education assistant at Yucca Elementary School.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board of education will be at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.