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Board passes MOU for teaching program

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Education > Agreement reached with New Mexico Highlands

The Los Alamos Board of Education recently voted to solidify an agreement with Highlands University that will make it easier for the Los Alamos Public School District’s teachers to attain Master’s Degrees in their chosen specialty.

The teachers’ tuition is expected to be funded by LAPS, however, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn revealed the university’s interim dean of education, Dr. Belinda Maumbach, is currently working on securing a grant “that would fund most, if not all of the tuition” for this year’s group of teachers who’ve already signed up for the program.

“In my mind, we have a very good partner who’s very anxious to make this program work and to help us find ways to fund it so we have a sustained path forward, at least for the next three years,” Washburn said at the meeting to the board.

The program provides six Master’s Degree programs, that include Master of Arts degrees in counseling, the arts and special education, educational leadership, and curriculum and instruction with elementary emphasis and secondary emphasis. The first session is slated to begin some time in January at the high school. More categories are due to be added in the future as the program grows.

Board member Kevin Honnell asked about the ratio of online classes to actual onsite training. A few months ago, when the administration and the board were first considering area schools for the program, board members as well as administrators stressed the importance of onsite teaching. It’s one of the factors that went into ultimately choosing Highlands University, which is based in Las Vegas, N.M., over colleges that were closer.

“Highlands has a clear understanding that the vast majority of classes will take place here,” Washburn said to the board.. “Obviously, there are going to be classes that will be offered online, just because of faculty considerations.

Board President Jim Hall OK’d the agreement, but also noted math and science, subjects the board sees as a crucial component of early childhood education, seemed to be underrepresented in the program.

“It seems to me having a required math and science component would certainly be a good idea,” Hall said. “...I really urge, especially at the elementary level that there is a lot of training on how to present math and science for kids.

Washburn replied he and Maumbach are working on that, and should have a plan for the near future.
The board then unanimously approved Washburn’s agreement with the university.

Tuesday, Washburn stated that Highland officials have signed the agreement and emails will shortly be going out to all the teachers in the district notifying them that the program is now open for students.

The school board and the administration decided to start the Master’s Degree program when it lost several teachers last year due to retirement and attrition. The way the state’s education funding formula is structured, Los Alamos lost about $800,000 in “teaching and experience” funding from the state.

The board and the administration decided that instead of hiring entry-level teachers to close the gap, it would make better fiscal sense in the long run to fund a Master’s Degree program for their staff in order to eventually gain back the level of teaching and experience funding the district once enjoyed.

Washburn said it also made sense on a fundamental level as well.

“The T and E piece was certainly a piece of it, but the other piece was that we feel very strongly that our Master’s Degree teachers have provided an excellent level of education to our students, and we’re losing a number of those to retirement over the next several years and we don’t want to lose that knowledge base,” Washburn said.