With student population either flat or increasing this school year, the largest school district in the Tricounty area is not facing program cuts as campuses see the return of teachers and students. However, a shortage of bus drivers means longer rides. That’s according to the district’s new superintendent, Teresa Salazar.

In a schools that have seen declining student populations—and declining funding levels as a result—for the past 10 to 15 years, this year the district has 190 new students from outside the district enrolled. Salazar said she doesn’t know yet how many former students will be returning as classes start this week. Funding is based on an average of two days during the school year. [check dates]

“Transportation and bus drivers continue to be a challenge,” Salazar said, “not only for us but for the state and the nation as well.” That shortage will mean longer bus rides for many students as both bus routes and drop-off points are being consolidated.

“The goal is to be safe and consistent,” Salazar said, adding that sporadic pick-up and drop-off times are expected to normalize. “We hope people will be patient,” she said.

Salazar said this year will see tighter security on the Moriarty High School campus, a new computer science curriculum, ongoing campus improvements, a new coach, and a “trauma-informed” approach to the emotional and social well-being of students.

Salazar has worked for the school district for seven years, and recently relocated to Edgewood. Before that, she commuted two and a half hours per day from Rio Rancho. She said she bore that commute for seven years because of the student-centered focus of the Moriarty-Edgewood schools.

A new program at the high school, part of Lead The Way computer science curriculum, will offer Essentials in Computer Science and AP Computer Science—which can serve either as an elective or a math credit. “This is huge,” Salazar said. It’s part of the school district’s transition from business courses to computer courses.

Moriarty Middle School got a grant from Verizon for courses that will feed into the program; because it is a Title I school, which has to do with income levels, Moriarty Middle qualified for the grant, but Edgewood Middle School did not.

The school district will offer free preschool for four-year-olds. Classes are open for two- and three-year-olds, but those are not free, she said.

Construction around the district this year will include security measures at the high school, including an electric gate between the entrance and buildings near the athletic fields. In addition, the Ag building will be renovated, and planning is underway for a more secure entrance to the high school administrative offices. “It’s sad to say we need this much security,” Salazar said. “It’s a balance between being safe and not feeling like a prison.”

The track is getting a resurfacing as well, although Salazar said that won’t be ready before football season starts due to weather conditions over the summer. A new basketball coach, Marcus Ortiz, joined the faculty, replacing Mike Trujillo. No other changes were made to coaching staff, she said.

The school district is training staff in what Salazar called “trauma-informed care” in relation to “social-emotional” needs of students. That means that teachers and other staff will be working to “make sure every kid connects with at least one person” at school, she said.

A survey by the district said that 63 percent of its students are “at risk,” a status that encompasses everything from divorce or a death in the family to issues of abuse and neglect. A full-time social worker has been added at the high school to help address those issues. “We want to make a difference in every child’s life,” Salazar said, adding, “We don’t know what anybody’s life is.”

The school district continues to fund a full round of athletics, including football, volleyball, track, tennis, soccer, wrestling, rodeo, baseball and softball.

In addition, it boasts a drama program, visual arts and ceramics, choir, piano, guitar and band.

“The bottom line is getting kids to school—it has to be fun and they have to be interested,” Salazar said. “Fine arts like music gets the mind prepared and ready for math. [Sports] gets them here. We like to give them four to five different interests. We’re the only comprehensive high school in this area. No matter your interest, there is something here for you.”

The district also rearranged its administrative posts, cutting administration from six to four positions, and instead using department directors. “We’ve cut all the programs we’re willing to cut,” Salazar explained. “Our kids deserve to have these programs, and the best education possible.”