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A meeting between school officials and officials from the New Mexico Public Education Department apparently went well, according to those who attended the meeting.
Los Alamos school officials that attended the meeting included Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Pamela Miller, School Board President Jim Hall, and School Board Vice President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie.
The meeting took place in early January. School officials requested the meeting, The purpose was to gain concessions from the NMPED regarding the state’s teacher evaluation process and the state’s version of the end-of-course exams.
According to Hall, the district accomplished three goals at the meeting.
“We received a lot more clarification on where they are more flexible,” Hall said, adding that his impression was the PED itself has become more flexible because of all the feedback from Los Alamos and other districts about the issue. Another reason he said was the PED has found it just doesn’t have the staff to accomplish all it set out to do.
“Another takeaway is that they are trying to things for the entire state and we see some things there that don’t necessarily benefit Los Alamos. That should allow us to make some proposals in those areas that will give us more flexibility. Three, we’ve got some specific relief for our teachers,” Hall said.
The “relief” comes in the form of flexibility over teacher evaluations. The group learned the PED will let them do either two or three evaluations in a certain period and the teachers get to choose. Also, Hall said the district found out that it will be deeply involved in the End-of-Course discussions.
During the meeting, school officials presented a letter to New Mexico Education Secretary Designee Hanna Skandera that detailed the district’s concerns about these subjects, as well as testing in general, the Common Core concept and the way the state has been introducing all of these systems in the classroom.
The district’s letter was written by a committee of parents teachers and school board officials called the “The Study Group of Teacher Concerns.” The committee was appointed by Los Alamos Public School District officials. The final draft of the letter was approved by the school board. In the letter, teachers asked the PED for a number of concessions, including a slow down of the introduction of these systems because it was proving to be overwhelming. They also wanted to customize certain aspects of the teacher evaluation system as well as the end of course exams.
They considered parts of the teacher evaluation system, known as “NMTeach”, too cumbersome and places too much emphasis on paperwork instead of teaching. The end-of-course exams they said included things on the exams they simply didn’t teach, and so not only would it hurt students’ test scores, it could also reflect badly on teacher evaluation reports.
“LAPS is deeply concerned about the number of new initiatives mandated this year. The initiatives — Teacher Evaluation System/NM Teach, Common Core State Standards, Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, and End of Course exams are all worthwhile — as are some of our own district initiatives, e.g., our new math adoption aligned with Common Core,” said a statement in the letter.
“However, the ‘all at once’ approach is proving disruptive to our district’s primary mission: educating students. A more graduated approach to implementing major initiatives would improve the success of these programs and gain broader acceptance from all stakeholders in Los Alamos: students, teachers, parents, administrators, and the board.”
Superintendent Dr. Gene Schmidt said the conversation he and the other school officials had with Skandera was “cordial.”
“Ms. Skandera promised to review our letter and provide feedback within a week to our concerns,” he said in a press release.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the school board opted to form two committees, one to study end-of-course exam options, and one to study ways to customize the teacher evaluation process.
Though Skandera asked the Los Alamos school officials to at least gather a year’s worth of data, using the PED’s teacher evaluation methods, she seemed to be flexible when it came to the district’s teachers’ wishes to develop their own lesson plans as well as develop their own end-of-course exams.
“Ms. Skandera seemed open to the district on End-of-Course exams so long as they were valid, uniform and reliable,” said Schmidt, adding “personally, I don’t know how much PED will allow us to change End-of-Course exams. I will share that we have teachers in our district who helped PED with writing End-of-Course exams. It may be possible to tie into these teacher strengths if teachers need help in writing their own.”