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Education > LAPS looks for cooperation in streamlining new evaluation system

By Tris DeRoma

It’s not every day the Los Alamos Public School District challenges a mandate from the New Mexico Public Education Department, as it’s doing with the PED’s new teacher evaluation system. But in this case, there’s safety in numbers.

According to officials, other school districts, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque, are also doing the same thing.

In the next month or so, LAPS teachers, in conjunction with the Los Alamos Board of Education will be coming up with ways to streamline the PED’s new teacher evaluation system after they’ve fielded numerous complaints and concerns from educators regarding the new system.

The evaluation process is the state’s response to receipt of a waiver from compliance with the “No Child Left Behind Act” earlier this year.

In a series of meetings and public hearings on the evaluation system, teachers have complained that the state’s system is too unwieldy, and it encroaches on the time they are supposed to be teaching students.

At a special school board meeting this week, the board unanimously voted in favor of a motion to have the administration kick start the process.

According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt, they’ve been in contact with the PED advising them of the district’s plan.

“We’ve tried to keep them advised as to what our concerns and conversations look like,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt added that he’s already talked with PED’S director of education quality, Matt Montano, about meeting with board members and district officials to explain the PED’s perspective.

“My hope is that he will come out and talk with principals as well as our Study Group for Teacher Concerns,” he said, adding that will probably happen early in November.

According to Schmidt, the PED is very interested in what Los Alamos is doing, and is keeping an open mind about it.
“They are interested,” he said.

“I know that from the secretary (Secretary of Education Designee Hannah Skandera) on down people have expressed an interest in what we’re doing, and especially what solutions we may have to offer.”
The board will hear the results of the Teacher’s Concern’s group and other LAPS educators at the Nov. 12 school board meeting.

The next step will be the drafting of a letter to the PED detailing its findings.

Board President Jim Hall said the streamlining of the evaluation system is just one step in a strategy to help the district’s teachers get back to what they want to be doing and should be doing, which is teaching.

Hall pointed out that the rollout of the new evaluation system is not just the only thing causing teacher morale to plummet, there’s a variety of new changes this year that’s causing some difficulty, including the rollout of “Common Core” a federal mandate designed to give students an education that’s globally competitive.

“The new evaluation system isn’t the only problem,” he said. “There are a variety of things that are making life difficult for our teachers, and it’s time to see what we can and can’t back off of. Let’s do one big thing at a time, and let’s make sure we’re going to do it for a while.”

While Hall said he’s sympathetic to the teachers’ plight, he also stressed that they aren’t trying to make life difficult for the PED either; saying that it’s in the best interests of the district to comply with the new mandate as much as it can.

“If in fact we get results that we think that will improve education for our kids, I’d rather go to the PED and say we’ve had a very successful first round of observations.

“I’d rather go into there with some success, and then say to them ‘look we can do this.’ Going into this whining and complaining without trying to comply isn’t going to help anybody.”

Recently, the PED sent a statement to the Los Alamos Monitor responding to the district’s plans.

“The PED is committed to continuing to work with Los Alamos and all of New Mexico’s school districts as they implement the evaluation this year,” said PED spokesperson Aimee Barabe.

In the same statement however, Barabe emphasized how important it is for all the districts to not reject the evaluation process outright.

“We know, and research proves, that an effective teacher in the classroom has the greatest impact on student achievement,” she said.

“Regarding the teacher evaluation system, the current system rates 99 percent of teachers in New Mexico as highly effective, which is not commensurate with student achievement; it’s irresponsible to rely on an evaluation system that doesn’t actually distinguish performance.

“As you may know, New Mexico received a waiver from the No Child Behind Act, and implementing the new teacher evaluation system this school year was a condition of that waiver.”