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Education

  • Schmidt pitches flattening structure

    In an effort to reduce costs and make things more efficient, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt told the Los Alamos Board of Education he’s looking to streamline the structure of his administration.

    Already, he’s made the former head of human resources, Gerry Washburn, assistant superintendent, and put human resources under Washburn’s watch. At a recent work session with the board, Schmidt proposed even more changes.

    One of the more notable moves is his request would put the technology department under the curriculum department.

    “There are a lot of drivers behind this,” he told the board. “One of those is that increasingly, technology should be a support mechanism for curriculum.” Schmidt also said that by putting technology under another department, there will be much more transparency in the department as far as procurement and use of technology is concerned.

    “When technology was working as its own independent system, there weren’t really checks, oversights and balances, Schmidt said. “By putting the technology department under the auspices of director of curriculum and instruction, I believe we would have an oversight mechanism to make sure that the technology purchases and the infrastructure are used to benefit overall student achievement.”

  • District mulls upgrades

    With the availability of commercial real estate space in the Los Alamos market already starting to widen, the Los Alamos Public Schools is looking to keep on top of the changes by doing a little house cleaning.

    Besides being a school system to 3,000 plus students, the district is also one of the biggest landlords in town, in that it owns several commercial properties that house everything from small businesses to some off-site offices of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

    Most of the buildings were at one time schools, revamped into commercial property as the population of school children in Los Alamos shrank through the years.

    The school district makes more than $2 million a year from leasing its properties, and will be soon adding to those revenues from the Trinity Site, once the new Smith’s Marketplace retail space is up and running on
    Trinity Drive.

    While LANL’s relationship with the schools has helped keep its properties occupied in a soft market, the district’s chief operations officer Joan Ahlers informed the Los Alamos Board of Education recently that this could change.

  • District to slow spending

    Though officials have taken a very conservative approach with the numbers, the Los Alamos Public School District is projecting a $2.9 million deficit in fiscal year 2015.

    The Los Alamos Board of Education conducted a work session Thursday to discuss the issue.

    Factors district officials included in their projections included hikes in health care costs, and increases in utility rates, along with regular salary increases.

    “Utility rate increases are budgeted as per discussion with Los Alamos County as follows: electric reflects a 6 percent (increase) for FY15, gas reflects a 5 percent increase in FY15 and a 10 percent increase in FY18, water reflects a 5 percent increase in FY15 and FY16,” according to a statement in a worksheet on the session.
    While a reduction in teaching staff was included in the district’s projections. Possible school closings or support staff reductions were not.

    “No cuts for classified staff are addressed in this analysis; classified staffing levels will still be required to support school sites at their levels,” read the statement, which included teacher assistants, secretaries, clerks and custodians in the analysis.

    Driving the deficit is also a projected steady decline in enrollment, which is where a reduction in teacher positions came from.

  • UNM-LA faculty to attend conference

    Three faculty members from the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, will be attending a National Science Foundation (NSF) conference in Washington Oct. 23-25.
    Dr. Irina Alvestad, Dr. Kate Massengale and Professor Don Davis will be attending ATE@20: Sustaining Success and Advancing Innovation. ATE stands for Advanced Technological Education and is a special grant opportunity offered to two-year schools by the NSF.
    Attendees represent two-year colleges, business and industry, secondary school systems, four-year colleges and research and development centers covering projects in a wide variety of areas such as: information technology, engineering technology, micro- and nanotechnologies, chemical technology, biotechnology, and others. The American Association of Community Colleges is running the conference with support from the NSF. This conference is for Principal Investigators on grants and will bring approximately 850 people to focus on critical issues related to advanced technological education. 

  • PED willing to listen

    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.

  • Trustees walk fine line

    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.

  • School board members to scrutinize mandates

    The Los Alamos Board of Education will have a special meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at th Los Alamos High School Speech Theater to address the grievances expressed by many of the district’s teachers at last week’s meeting.

    At a regularly scheduled meeting Oct. 8, teachers expressed a myriad of concerns over the many changes the federal government as well as New Mexico is in the process of implementing with regard to how students are graded, and how teachers are evaluated.

    Since the beginning of this academic year, facets of “Common Core” and “NMTeach” have been rolled out in classrooms from kindergarten to high school and some Los Alamos teachers are saying it is too much, too soon.

    Jonathan Lathrop, a teacher at the high school, told the board and district officials as much at the Oct. 8 meeting.

    “In the 19 years I’ve been here, the morale of your teachers has reached an all-time low; in fact, I don’t think it goes too far to call it a crisis,” he said. He recounted the recent resignation of a well-known and experienced teacher who decided to go to a charter school.
    “She felt like she had to leave and go to a charter school so she could teach,” he said, emphasizing the word could.

  • UNM-LA forges ahead with plans

    While the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos did not get the funds from taxpayers to support and expand its programs this year, campus officials are still optimistic things are going to turn out well.

    At a recent meeting, campus Director Dr. Cedric Page, and members of the community college’s advisory board discussed the outcome of a town-wide vote that took place in September. The vote was for a 2-mil tax levy, funds from which would have allowed the school to expand its reach into the community as well as end its reliance on finite funding for a number of academic programs.

    But, Los Alamos residents voted down the measure 2,908 to 2,662.

    Page said the meeting was mostly about analyzing the vote and deciding upon a general direction. They compared the vote to the same attempt made in 2010, as well as the vote earlier this year where residents approved Los Alamos Public Schools’ second $20 million bond for the reconstruction of Aspen Elementary School and other district projects.

    One observation they made was that the voters were similar in profile in terms of party affiliation and age. They also observed the LAPS bond vote had a 6,300 voter turnout where the September UNM-LA vote had about a thousand less.

  • Teachers rail against New Mexico mandate

    When your school board seriously debates defying a state mandate, you know things are bad.

    That’s exactly what happened Tuesday night after the Los Alamos Board of Education sat through hours of testimony from the district’s teachers. The teachers urged the board to help them stop or at least slow down, a new teacher and administrator evaluation process being ushered in by New Mexico Education Secretary designate Hanna Skandera.

    The program is called NMTeach, and is billed as “New Mexico’s Educator Effectiveness System.”

    Before the teachers made their presentation, Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn and Curriculum Expert Pam Miller gave theirs, hoping to dispel the many fears and misperceptions the teachers may have about the system.

    A summary sheet created by the Public Education Department emphasized three facts: that the system was created with plenty of teacher input, that only administrators from their district would be doing observations and that the system is not something that was “made up” as a means to fire teachers.

    While teachers said they understood the PED’s goal of making sure teachers are effective in the classroom, this system they said, has a lot of bugs in it.

  • Board confronts declines in student population

    In the coming months, the Los Alamos Board of Education will be considering if something should be done, if anything, about the declining, in-district student population in Los Alamos Public Schools.

    The decline in enrollment was pointed out during a presentation and an accompanying report to the Los Alamos Board of Education by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn.

    While the decline is not a severe one, (2.69 percent since 2012) Washburn and Schmidt projected the enrollment decline out over five years to demonstrate what could happen to their funding if the trend continues.

    “Mr. Washburn developed a five-year look ahead that illustrates the impact from a 2 percent, 3 percent and 5 percent decline in enrollment. Each decline in enrollment will be accompanied by a reduction in state funding.