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Message from the Los Alamos Board of Education to teachers in Los Alamos: “We’re on your side, and we’re going to try to help you. But, please remember who holds the purse strings.”
After dozens of teachers and administrators reminded the board of how difficult it’s been this year to deal with the oncoming flood of paperwork and documentation required of them because of new state mandates, the school board presented a motion that walks a fine line between appeasing teachers and the New Mexico Public Education Department.
The motion acknowledged teacher grievances with the state-mandated programs, pledging to take a strong and studied look at each aspect of these programs, and see what they can dismantle or at least postpone without drawing the ire of the NMPED.
At issue is a variety of programs and standards that were implemented in full this year: Mainly “NMTeach,” a state program that some Los Alamos teachers are saying comes with too much paperwork, and worse, diverts time away from what they are supposed to actually do, which is teach.
Most of the educators, as well as school principals were there to talk about the NMTeach, and how difficult and time consuming it is. NMTeach is a new teacher evaluation system.
“We knew this evaluation system was coming, but we did not know the level of work they wanted us to do,” Andrea Determan said in reference to the NMTeach system.
Kathryn Vandenkieboom, the principal of Aspen Elementary School, also weighed in with the board talking about some of the troubles she’s had with the system.
She explained what she thought was specifically wrong with the system, mainly how time consuming and technical it is.
“The problem is, there are three observations per teacher, two walkthroughs (observing in the classroom) two evaluations of domains one and four...I’m afraid to open any of those because I’m afraid I’m going to mess them up,” she said, adding that the fundamental problem is the job of evaluating teachers has become too big and complicated.
“The problem is that for years, our job has kept growing,” Vandenkieboom said. “The job is too big to do perfectly, and I don’t like not doing my job perfectly... there are just too many irons in the fire right now.”
The board’s motion comes in two parts: the first part being identification of specific facets of the programs that don’t seem to be working, or at the very least, taking away from teaching students. This process will be accomplished with a mixture of district officials and teachers. At the next school board meeting, Nov. 12, the administration will present its findings to the board, as well as present arguments as to why it chose to put on hold or modify certain parts of the NMTeach system.
The second part of the motion calls for a carefully-worded letter to the NMPED as to why the district chose to do what it did while at the same time appealing to the common goals and commitments the Los Alamos school district has with the PED. (The full motion can be found on LAMonitor.com.)
After the motion was modified with a number of friendly amendments from other board members, School Board President Jim Hall cautioned them as well as the audience of teachers and administrators, that this strategy is not going to be easy.
“I think that even if this is successful, it comes with considerable risk,” he said. “I think we should try all the other alternatives first. If there are going to be changes in the New Mexico Education System, they are going to take time. This specifically is probably going to play out over years. This is not going to be resolved by next year. We have to find ways to do our job for our kids,” he said.
Also in the audience was the president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, Ellen Mills. She said she thought the administration and the board are moving in the right direction.
When asked if she thought the board was being aggressive enough in its stance regarding the new state mandates, she said progress was being made.
“I think we’re starting, which is encouraging,” she said. “It was really good to see what’s been happening at the last two meetings. I think everyone spoke very well, I’m very encouraged,” she said.