Dulce asks to leave Norther’s geographic region

    Since 2009, the state has mandated that each high school student wishing to graduate must take at least one course, which is either honors, advanced placement, dual credit or distance learning. To qualify for the last two, the school district must collaborate with an outside institution — in most cases an institution of higher learning.

    Until filing five complaints with the Public Education Department and Higher Education Department, Dulce Independent School District was under the geographic area of responsibility of Northern New Mexico College.

    A geographic area of responsibility is an assigned geographic region encompassing one or more public school districts, where a public post-secondary educational institution has the exclusive right to meet the lower decision post-secondary educational needs of the area, subject only to the limitation imposed by its enabling legislation and consistent with the provisions of this policy. Until recently, Dulce High School students were reliant on Northern to meet their dual credit needs.

    On Jan. 16, 2013, Dulce Superintendent Jim Lesher wrote the Public Education Department, citing excess fees being charged by Northern to dual-credit students. In this letter, Lesher requests Dulce School District be allowed to exit Northern’s geographic area of responsibility and be allowed to enter into San Juan College’s territory. 

    “I cannot, in good faith, advocate for dual credit with NNMC for the students of Dulce. Our high school counselor will no longer encourage students to enroll there,” Lesher’s letter states.

    On Aug. 16, Dulce High School Counselor Ernie Vela wrote an email to Lesher, which recounted a dual-credit registration and testing date, which Northern representatives did not appropriately set up.

    “NNMC representatives arrived two hours late at 10:00 a.m. NNMC had not set-up the testing requirements for Dulce to test with Compass. It was decided that testing would be conducted on Friday, August 16. NNMC never contacted me or Josh Baeza (Dulce High School IT coordinator) with information to set-up computers for testing on Friday,” Vela’s email states.

    The letter states Northern’s unresponsiveness caused Dulce High School juniors and seniors to lose two days of instruction.

    “Our students and teachers deserve better treatment from a higher level educational institution like NNMC,” Vela’s email states. The email was forwarded to both the Public Education Department and the Higher Education Department.

    On Aug. 26, Lesher sent a letter to the dual credit council with the higher education department, formally requesting to be withdrawn from Northern’s geographic area of responsibility and put under San Juan College.

    In a Jan. 6 interview, Lesher said the initial problem with dual-credit courses taken through Northern came two years ago. Lesher said several students were taking dual-credit, distance learning courses through Northern.

     State statute states a post-secondary institution must waive all general fees for dual credit courses. However, students enrolled in dual credit courses are still responsible for paying course-specific fees.

    Northern’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement Ricky Serna said the fees students were being billed were course-specific fees. He said Northern does not have any dual-credit courses but has dual-credit students.

    “We (Northern) don’t identify courses as dual-credit,” Serna said.

    For dual-credit students in places like Dulce, the courses would mostly be online, or distance learning courses. Many of these courses will be accompanied by a fee, Serna said.

    However, Lesher said in 2012, the course-specific fees were not listed by the courses students were taking, but the fees were attached to the courses in later catalogs.

    The high turnover in personnel at Northern also contributed to the problems with dual-credit students, Lesher said.

    When Northern failed to show up on time Aug. 14 to administer testing and registration for students, Lesher went to the Secretary of Higher Education José Garcia to request a change. Higher Education Department Policy Analyst and Chair of the Dual Credit Council Gerald Pitzl, emailed Northern Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Anthony Sena, advising him that the Council was considering granting Lesher the request. Northern granted the request.

    “The impact of this proposal on our enrollments is minimal and, given the region’s geographic proximities, we find that this is a reasonable request,” Sena said in a Sept. 25 letter to Pitzl.

    Lesher said dual-credit classes with San Juan College will start this spring semester. Since the shift to San Juan College, Dulce School District’s relationship with Northern has improved, he said.

    “Our relationship (with Northern) is stronger than ever and the door is open for future collaboration,” Lesher said.

    Other high schools working with Northern have not had the same issues as Dulce. Escalante High School Principal Gregory Mares said the dual-credit and distance learning relationship with Northern is fabulous. Jemez Mountain School District Superintendent Manuel Medrano said his district had some scheduling issues with Northern a few years ago, but since then things have been straightened out.

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