• Chamisa teacher named tops in the state

    Carol Torres, center, shares a moment with her third grade students during a special school assembly honoring her accomplishment of becoming New Mexico’s Teacher of the Year. Check out the Los Alamos Monitor Wednesday for more coverage on the honor. 

  • Not good enough: Math, reading scores up slightly

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Sometimes the best isn't good enough: Most American fourth- and eighth-graders still lack basic skills in math and reading despite record high scores on a national exam.

    Yes, today's students are doing better than those who came before them. But the improvements have come at a snail's pace.

    The 2013 Nation's Report Card released Thursday finds that the vast majority of the students still are not demonstrating solid academic performance in either math or reading. Stubborn gaps persist between the performances of white children and their Hispanic and African-American counterparts, who scored much lower.

    Overall, just 42 percent of fourth-graders and 35 percent of eighth-graders scored at or above the proficient level in math. In reading, 35 percent of fourth graders and 36 percent of eighth graders hit that mark.

    Still, as state and federal policies evolve in the post-No Child Left Behind era, the nation's school kids are doing better today on the test than they did in the early 1990s, when such tracking started, with more improvement in math than in reading. Students of all races have shown improvement over the years.

  • Chamisa to 'raise the roof'

    From 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Chamisa Elementary will be hosting probably one of the most important events a parent can attend to help in their child’s education.

    The event will be held inside the school’s gym, and parents have the option to buy a pizza dinner.

    Called “Readers Raise the Roof,” the event is doubling as an introduction to reading for students in pre-K through third grade, as well as a workshop for parents looking for ideas on how to keep their kids interest up in reading when they aren’t in school.

    While the event is designed to be fun, there’s a serious motive behind it said Debbie Smith, the principal at Chamisa Elementary School.

    “At the youngest stages, a child’s first and most important teachers are their parents,” she said. “What parents do their children model, so what we want parents to do is model these best practices.”

  • 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.