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Four Albuquerque-Area High Schools Ranked Among Best in U.S.

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U.S. News & World Report announced today that four Albuquerque area schools were ranked among America’s Best High Schools. After analyzing academic and enrollment data from 18,790 public high schools, U.S. News & World Report placed the top schools in three categories. 100 schools were awarded gold medals. 405 schools were awarded silver medals including La Cueva High School and Sandia High School. And 1,086 schools were awarded bronze medals including Eldorado High School and East Mountain Charter School. Altogether, only 8 ½ percent of the high schools in America were awarded a medal.

A three-step process determined the best high schools. The first step determined whether each school’s students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in their state. They looked at reading and math test results for all students on each state’s high school test. They then factored in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (who tend to score lower) enrolled at the school to find which schools were performing better than their statistical expectations.

For those schools that made it past this first step, the second step determined whether the school’s least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic, and low-income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state. They compared each school’s math and reading proficiency rates for disadvantaged students with the statewide results for these disadvantaged student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than this state average.

Schools that made it through those first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step: college-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement data as the benchmark for success. (AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country.)

The top 100 high schools nationwide with the highest college readiness index scores were awarded gold medals. The next 405 top-performing high schools nationwide based on their college readiness index earned silver medals. An additional 1,086 high schools that passed the first two steps were awarded bronze medals.

Congratulations to the students, faculty and administration at La Cueva High School, Sandia High School, Eldorado High School and East Mountain Charter School!

NAR Forecasts Home Prices to Fall 5.3% in 1st Q — Setting Record

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This week brought another steady stream of bad housing news. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reported that its Pending Home Sales Index slipped to 87.6 in November. The index measures the level of U.S. sales agreements. The 2.6% drop far exceeded experts’ projections of a 0.8% decline.

The NAR now forecasts home prices to fall by a record quarterly year-over-year 5.3 percent during the first three months of 2008. However, keep in mind the old saw that, “In real estate, the 3 most important things are location, location, location.” Experts predict that Albuquerque real estate prices will buck the national trend and will appreciate 3.5% to 5% in 2008.

Meanwhile, Federal National Mortgage Association (FNAM, pronounced Fannie Mae) President and CEO Daniel Mudd predicted that the housing downturn would continue through 2010. Fannie Mae is the nation’s largest financer and guarantor of home loans.

Concerns over housing woes reach all the way to the White House. U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson said he sees “no evidence” that the nation’s housing market is near a bottom.

Average Mortgage Interest Rates Fall to 5.88% (30-year fixed) with Average Points of 0.35%

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This week, mortgage rates tumbled to their lowest levels since September 2005. The average 30-year fixed rate fell 26 basis points from the previous week to 5.88 percent. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

Meanwhile, the average 15-year fixed — a popular option for refinancing — plunged 31 basis points, to 5.45 percent. The average jumbo 30-year fixed declined 17 basis points to 7.03 percent.

Adjustable rates also sank. The one-year adjustable-rate mortgage fell 7 basis points, to 6.03 percent. The popular 5/1 ARM slid 33 basis points, to 5.81 percent.

This week’s drop marked the second consecutive week of sharply falling mortgage rates. Rates had been rising steadily in recent weeks before suddenly reversing direction and tumbling a total of 43 basis points over the past two weeks.

The sharp drop in mortgage rates likely reflects souring investor sentiment over the future of the U.S. economy. Investors anticipating an economic slowdown or recession are snapping up U.S. Treasury securities, causing yields to fall. The direction of fixed mortgage rates and Treasury bond rates often is closely correlated.

Falling rates offer a rare glimmer of hope to the nation’s housing market, which has been slumping since hitting record highs earlier this decade.

Several factors have contributed to softening demand for real estate, including an oversupply of homes on the market, a spike in foreclosure rates and tightening credit conditions brought on by the subprime mortgage crisis.

The average interest rates above are from’s weekly national survey of large banks and thrifts conducted January 9, 2008, and published on January 10, 2008.

Interconnected, Dual-Sensor Smoke Alarms Are the Safest

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You should install smoke alarms with two different types of sensors. Ionization sensors are better at detecting fast, flaming fires. Photoelectric sensors are better at detecting smoldering fires. But the best smoke alarms have dual-sensors which contain both detector types. Two easy-to-install, battery-powered, dual-sensor alarms are First Alert SA302 and Kidde PI 9000, about $25.

However, for the greatest safety, you should interconnect your smoke alarms by wiring them together. When one of the alarms goes off, it will set off all the alarms in your home. This will give your family the best chance to be awakened since the alarm near your bedroom will be triggered by an alarm from the other side of your home or downstairs in the kitchen or garage, where most fires start.

Unfortunately, manufacturers have yet to develop a battery-powered device that has both types of sensors and uses wireless technology to interconnect the alarms. The obstacle is that such a setup would drain the batteries. However, you can interconnect dual-sensor devices that operate through the AC power in your home such as the Kidde PI 2000, about $40.

How to Conduct a Fire Drill in Your Home

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Yesterday, I published some tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) to make your home safer. One of the recommendations was that, for families with children, you should conduct a fire drill at night at least twice a year to determine how responsive your children are to the alarms and how capable they are of following an escape plan.

When your children have gone to sleep, manually sound a smoke alarm outside their bedrooms. If they do not wake up from the alarm, wake them and continue the drill. If your children don’t respond to the alarm, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests designating an easily awakened adult to rouse sleeping children by pounding on a wall or door, yelling “fire,” or blowing a whistle. It would also be an excellent idea to install an interconnected alarm inside the children’s rooms.

Resolve To Have a Safer Home in 2008

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Here’s a great New Year’s resolution. Why not resolve to make 2008 a safer year? Below are 15 tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) with things you can do to help prevent fires, burns, shocks, falls, drowning and other common hazards. Even if you do only a few things on this list, you will improve the safety of your home and thereby protect yourself and your family:

1. Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

2. Purchase fire extinguishers for the kitchen. Buy the right type.

3. Have a professional electrician inspect your home’s electrical wiring system at least every 10 years.

4. Have the newly developed arc-fault circuit-interrupter, a device designed to minimize the fire risks associated with certain wiring defects, installed in your electric panel.

5. Have an electrician install ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCIs) in areas where there is an increased risk of a shock hazard such as where water may be present (including outdoor circuit, bathrooms, and kitchens).

6. Regularly test all ground-fault circuit-interrupters (GFCIs) that are already present.

7. For families with small children, install safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers to prevent access to medicines and cleaners.

8. Use safety gates to help keep small children away from stairs and rooms containing hazards, but beware of the old-style accordion gates, which can be an entrapment and strangulation hazard.

9. Install anti-scald devices, especially at baths and showers, to regulate water temperature and help prevent burns.

10. Make sure lids of toy chests have mechanisms to prevent the lid from falling on a child’s neck or from closing and trapping a child inside the chest.

11. Use window guards and safety netting for balconies and decks to help prevent serious falls.

12. Use outlet covers to protect children from electric shock or electrocution.

13. Avoid the use of blinds with hanging cords. Use window blind cord safety devices to help prevent strangulation in the loops of cords.

14. Every member of the family should have the appropriate type and proper-fitting safety helmet and other safety equipment for riding on bicycles, scooters, skates and skateboards.

15. Develop a home fire escape plan and rehearse with all members of your family.

Rio Ranchoans Will Save Money on Property Insurance

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According to an article published in today’s online edition of the Rio Rancho Observer, Rio Rancho property insurance rates should drop later this year. The Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue Department announced that the Insurance Service Organization (ISO) rating for Rio Rancho will improve from Class 4 to Class 3 beginning in the spring of 2008.

Ten percent of the overall ISO rating is based on how well the fire department receives fire alarms and dispatches its fire-fighting resources. Fifty percent of the overall ISO rating is based on the number of engine companies and the amount of water a community needs to fight a fire. And forty percent of the ISO rating is based on the community’s water supply, focusing on whether the community has sufficient water supply for fire suppression beyond daily maximum consumption.

The improved ISO rating is an indication that Rio Rancho has improved its capability to fight fires. Since insurance companies rely, in part, on the ISO rating to set their premium rates, Rio Rancho commercial and residential property owners should be eligible for lower insurance rates.

Congratulations to the Rio Rancho Fire and Rescue Department and to Rio Rancho property owners!

Fred and Sandra Creek
Fred & Sandra Creek