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A carefully-worded letter addressed to Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera recently advanced a few steps toward final approval. The letter, which has been worked and edited for weeks by a panel of parents, educators and staff members appointed by the school district has several goals.
The main thrust of the letter is to seek approval from Skandera and the New Mexico Public Education Department to make changes to NMPED’s recently implemented programs and initiatives. The school district has already made some changes, and officials are hoping NMPED will give its approval to the changes, once NMPED understands the reasons outlined in the letter.
Since the beginning of the school year, teachers in the Los Alamos Public Schools system and their support staff have been changes to the classroom NMPED has mandated through initiatives like “NMTeach” and “Common Core.” NMTeach basically focuses on teacher performance and Common Core is a nationally-based program designed to ensure New Mexico’s school children are learning math and English at a level consistent with students across the nation.
Shortly after the changes were implemented, the special panel that wrote the letter, the “Study Group for Teacher Concerns,” has been hard at work analyzing the directives and coming up with alternatives.
According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt, this may be the first time such a thing has been attempted.
“My thinking is that I don’t know of any other districts that have had this comprehensive review of the many requirements and mandates that are being asked of our teachers,” he said.
While the district’s teachers understand what the NMPED and Skandera are trying to do, they disagree with parts of the programs that interfere with actual classroom time with students, and are looking to end or at least delay those facets of the programs for another time.
“There is a broad perception by those in the district’s front lines that paperwork is replacing people work and interfering with instructional time and student success,” said a statement in the finalized letter. “In addition, our staff’s proven successful best practices have been negatively impacted by the time and effort associated in meeting the highly specific requirements of NMPED initiatives.”
The letter also explains why the district has started to make changes, and why it felt it had the credentials to do so.
“LAPS diligently prepared for the changes New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) asked of our district.
For example, the LAPS School Board and the district administration provided part-time elementary school administrative interns to free up time for principals to conduct observations this year. As well, LAPS administrators and three schools participated in the pilot last year and underwent extensive training,” according to a statement in the letter. “Unfortunately, the impact of implementing the new evaluation system, coupled with software problems and delayed delivery of key components such as end-of-course exams, has eroded teacher morale and generated resentment of needed improvements. In addition, our implementation of Common Core curricula and other worthwhile initiatives are being marginalized.”
The letter’s top three demands include:
“1. Granting LAPS permission to revise its original NM Teach observation format with the one that is attached to this letter.
2. Granting LAPS permission to use district-developed assessments that are benchmarked and aligned in place of NMPED End-of-Course exams.
3.Allowing LAPS flexibility to schedule observation sessions to allow strong, targeted professional development where needed.”
This week, teachers and staff are voting on approving the letter. If the letter is approved by the teachers, then it will go on to the Los Alamos School Board, which is expected to approve it before being delivered to the administration. The letter will then be hand-delivered sometime in December by Schmidt to Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera.
Schmidt said he’s sure, if anything, the letter is a correct and diplomatic representation of how the community truly feels about the NMPED’s recent directives, adding that everyone in the community, from parents to the president of the school board, have had a hand in shaping the contents of the letter.
“I think it’s more than the collective thoughts of teachers, it represents the collective thoughts of our entire school community,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Schmidt and other school officials fanned out across the district to see how the voting was going. Schmidt stopped by Piñon and Chamisa elementary schools to see how the teachers were doing.
Though teachers were showing up to vote, some didn’t think the letter was going to make any difference.
“This is the governor’s wish (the mandates),” said Ryan Ross, who teaches math and science. “I think if she’s still in office next year we’re going to be continuing with her programs. I think it’s political, it’s what the governor wants, and I don’t think they are taking a lot of input from the stakeholders. I think they have a plan, and if what we have doesn’t blend with their plan, then they are just going to say ‘thank you’ and continue what they’re doing.”
Other teachers said the letter should be given to the NMPED anyway.
“Even if our letter doesn’t affect an immediate change at least we’re giving ourselves a voice and we’re making PED aware of our stance and the things we’re seeing in our district,” teacher Jennifer Guy said.