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Current Artesia Public Schools assistant superintendent John Ross Null, left, poses for a photo with current superintendent Dr. Crit Caton, center, and APS Board of Education president Lowell Irby, right, following his announcement Monday as the district’s hire to replace Caton upon his retirement at the end of this school year. Null’s tenure will take effect July 1. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

The Artesia Public Schools’ current superintendent of personnel and student services, John Ross Null, has been named the new superintendent of the district and will begin his tenure July 1.

APS Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton announced his retirement in December, and the Board of Education held two closed meetings this year – the first Jan. 7 to review applications submitted by Null, Thad Phipps, APS superintendent of operations, and Cody Skinner, Park Junior High School principal, and the second Jan. 8 to interview the applicants.

During its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, the board offered the position to Null, with his salary to be negotiated at a later date.

“We interviewed three candidates,” board president Lowell Irby said, “and all three candidates handled themselves very well, and we were very pleased with all three candidates.”

Board member Luis Florez nominated Null for the position, saying that “all three candidates offered that, regardless of the outcome, each would stand behind whomever the board decided to hire and continue to support the district, and I want to commend them for that.”

Prior to the vote, Caton told the board “the district is going to be in great hands with all of these men moving forward.”

The board voted unanimously to hire Null.

“It truly is an honor,” Null said. “I want to say that Mr. Phipps and Mr. Skinner and the passion that they have for the kids in this district and the commitment that they have for the kids in this district is unbelievable, and there is absolutely no doubt that this district would excel under the leadership of either one of them. I have the utmost respect for both of you, and I can’t wait to continue working with you. Along those lines, I am also glad that Dr. Caton is here for another six months to continue to work with us as well.

“It’s an honor to be named the next superintendent of the Artesia Public Schools, and there is a reason that, in the 27-plus years that I have worked for this district, I have worked with three superintendents – Taylor Stevenson, Mike Phipps and Dr. Caton – and that is because of the leadership and the guidance of the board and the dedication of our entire staff. Families in this community send us great kids and trust us to do our job, and I thank the board for giving me this opportunity. I will do my best for the kids of Artesia.”

In other business, Null presented the board with the first draft of the 2019-20 district calendar, and superintendent of instruction and federal programs Danny Parker received the board’s permission to renew the district’s service contract with PowerSchool Student Information Services in the amount of $45,020.48.

Phipps received the board’s approval to purchase 30 new theatre-type seats on a three-tiered deck for the Bulldog Pit team room from AK Sales in the amount of $31,147.25. Funds will come from the HB33 account.

Shonda Poe, second from right, accepts a plaque and bouquet of flowers from Tate Branch, second from left, sponsor of the Tate Branch Success Maker Award, and Camilo Romero, Tate Branch Artesia general manager, alongside APS Superintendent Dr. Crit Caton, left. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

Shonda Poe, second-grade teacher at Central Elementary School, was announced as the Tate Branch Success Maker award recipient for the month of December.

Poe was nominated by one of her previous students, Aubrey, now in fifth grade, who said, “Thank you for being the most awesome teacher and thank you for helping me. Also, if your class is being disrespectful, have them read this successor letter. Thank you for teaching my brother. I love you.”

Poe received a plaque, bouquet of flowers, and check from Tate Branch Auto Group.

“Shonda is one of those teachers that you dream about having,” Central principal Tammy Davis said. “I would say her two strongest things that she brings to our table every single day is her relationships that she builds with her kids and the fact that she is always learning.”

“I am so thankful, I appreciate this so much,” Poe said. “I do love my kiddos, and this is what I have always wanted to do, and I am so grateful that I am able to do it in such an awesome school district.”

Caton also announced the retirements of Wilma Brannon, APS cafeteria worker; himself as APS superintendent; Tina Holleman, education diagnostician, SPED; and Debra Leonard, music teacher for the elementary schools. The resignation of Amanda Torrez, SPED instructional assistant, Roselawn Elementary School, was announced, along with the employment of Maribel Flores, third-grade teacher, Central Elementary; Taylor Shoeffel, instructional assistant, Grand Heights Early Childhood Center; Desirae Thurman, kindergarten teacher, Grand Heights; and Angie Wolf, language arts teacher, Zia Intermediate School.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the floor was opened to public comment, with recent Artesia transplant Joseph Howell addressing the board.

Howell stated he and his wife like the education system in Artesia so much she took a job as a special education teacher at Park Junior High.

“But along with the good, there’s always the bad,” Howell said. “Two things I would like to have you guys think about. One item on the agenda is spending $35,000 on some chairs and new platforms for the physical education department.”

Howell told the board his wife and other teachers at Park “were asked to go and paint their own rooms.”

He alleged there exists “some serious dilapidation” at some of the schools in the district.

“I recommend that you might think about your priorities a little bit,” Howell said. “There are some significant needs in our schools for that money, and I don’t know that’s the best use of it.”

Howell said he and his wife donated their time and materials to painting her classroom, as she was told she would need to create a “welcoming environment” for the students.

“I think that you might want to think about where you are spending your money, I mean, a thousand dollars per chair when you haven’t even got money to put into painting the special education rooms or replacing some carpet that has been there since the 1970s, you might want to consider that,” Howell said.

Park principal Skinner says it’s true administration asked teachers this year to strive to create classroom environments that would invigorate their students but that how those environments were created was up to the teachers.

Skinner says some teachers chose painting their rooms a different color as part of their individual process. APS maintenance staff could not be tasked with the painting, as the rooms were not yet in need of routine maintenance. Paint, however, was purchased by the school and made available to those teachers who wished to use it.

Howell also told the board some schools “have a tradition” of using daytime sporting events as fundraising opportunities. The practice, commonly known as a “buy-out,” allows students to donate a small sum to a charitable cause or school organization in order to leave class and watch a basketball game or other sporting event.

“The unfortunate part of that is that the message that’s being given to the students is that they must either give money – and it’s a very small amount, it’s $1 – to this fundraising opportunity or else go to ISS,” Howell said. “Well, I hate to tell you this, but that is against the law; it’s against the law in the state of New Mexico, and it’s against the federal law. The term that we use for requiring someone to pay money or face some kind of a punishment is called extortion.”

Artesia High School recently held a buy-out fundraiser during the City of Champions Classic basketball tournament, with funds raised going to aid a local family at Christmastime. AHS principal Eric Greer said at Monday’s meeting that all students given the opportunity attended.

“Wonderful idea, happily donated money to that, what’s wrong with it is requiring students to do it or else punishing; that’s against the law and is immoral,” Howell said. “I ask that you change that tradition, encourage the students to give, make it an opportunity to where they can donate on their own, don’t require it.

“And I know that I have been told by a couple of teachers that if a student doesn’t want to donate they don’t have to, the problem is the message. We shouldn’t be giving a message to students that they have to pay or face punishment; that’s the problem. I have no problem with having them go to sports things during the day or to give them the choice to do that or study hall.”

The APS Athletic Department confirmed today that students not wishing to participate in buy-outs are not told they will be sent to In-School Suspension (ISS). Rather, they are told they have the option of attending study hall instead, which is held in the same room as ISS. Students are aware the study hall option is entirely up to them based simply on whether or not they want to attend the game.

Students wanting to attend who may not have the money to donate are still allowed to attend, and no threat of punishment is issued either way.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the board of education will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11, in the Lowell M. Irby Board Room at the Administration Building.