Nusser relies on leadership skills and 20 years of experience

By Tony Parra: PNT staff writer

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of five interviews with the finalists for the Portales School Superintendent position. The superintendent will be announced at Monday’s school board meeting:

Melvin Nusser is the Portales High School principal and has been principal for three and a half years.

Q: What aspects of your job will translate to the superintendent job?
A: With 20 years of experience that I have, I have developed working relationships with faculty and staff that are positive. I don’t see a difference in administrators, principals and teachers. They all have to be leaders. A teacher is a leader in the classroom.
It’s about having leadership skills and I believe I’ve done fairly well in that area.

Q: What stands out about Portales schools from your observations?
Strengths: The quality of faculty and staff is second to none. Portales is a heck of a place to raise your family. It’s (Portales) unique in that as large as the town is it still has a small-town feeling. Portales has been good to me. I’ve been blessed.
Needs Improvements: All of us have the same bout with “No Child Left Behind”. I hope there are amendments. We have to talk to our legislators and get them to change some things. No teacher wants a child to be left behind, but students have different learning abilities.
We have people who are brain surgeons and people who work in manual labor. We benefit greatly in the different types of jobs they have. It’s a country built on manual labor. Everyone from superintendent to a plumber has to work hard to be successful.

Q: What qualifies you for the position?
A: I think our district has invested a huge amount of time into the framework. There has been extensive training in the Baldridge process (a process of evaluating data to show improvement in students). I received more training in that just recently and have knowledge of Baldridge.
(I also credit) my experience working in the school district.

Q: None of Portales schools met the state’s adequate yearly progress (AYP). What are your impressions of that and what needs to be done to fix it?
A: I think we’ve made great steps (towards improving AYP). Two things must be done. We want to put a face with the data. If it’s just disclosed that the whole subgroup didn’t meet AYP, we won’t know specifically who is having trouble. We’ve got to know who is falling behind so we can help those students.
The second thing is to align our curriculum. The state is going to have to allow us the information as to what benchmarks we are tested on. We have to know, regarding the testing, what they are looking for.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge the district is facing?
A: The financial aspect of it. When you start “No Child Left Behind” you’ve got to have financial backing. Unfunded mandates cause strain on the district. Eighty-five percent of spending in a school district is for personnel. In the last four years, we’ve had to tighten our belt.
Q: Is there a way to make budget cuts that won’t affect instruction?
A: I’m sure there is. One way we have done that is by saving energy costs. (The Portales School Board went into an agreement in May of 2004 with Energy Education Inc. of Wichita Falls, Texas to save on utility costs). We have to look at the campus costs and be able to get the most cost-efficient use of the campuses.

Q: What must be done to make sure that online classes and the Broad Horizons Education Center move are successes?
A: Both programs are for a specified group of people. Somehow we are missing some kids. We had a graduation rate of 87 percent in 2004. With “No Child Left Behind,” that’s not good enough and we (Portales schools officials) feel that’s not good enough. I don’t care if it’s 95 percent — we’ve got to figure out how we can reach that 5 percent.
It’s going to take all of us working together for these programs to succeed. We will look at data to enhance our programs.

— Compiled by PNT Staff Writer Tony Parra