AFT maps out its vision as state legislature looms

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Education> Teacher wants changes in how state manages public education

By Tris DeRoma

SANTA FE — It was an afternoon of fiery speeches and goal setting Monday as the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico held a press conference in the rotunda of the capitol, putting legislators on notice they wanted changes in how the state manages public education.
Those attending from Los Alamos included a group of retired teachers and current teachers, including Ryan Ross, Karyl Ann Armbruster, Jane Young, Shelby Redondo and Ellen Mills, who is also the president of AFT affiliate the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees.
Speakers at the event included the National Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Vice President Kathy Chavez, AFT NM President Stephanie Ly, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, State Sen. Jacob Candelaria, (D-Bernalillo), New Mexico’s first Poet Laureate Hakim Bellamy and others.
In this legislative session, AFT NM hopes to accomplish several goals, including getting the New Mexico Public Education Department to be more receptive to public input, supply more funding to critical programs, let teachers have more say in their evaluations and not rely so much on testing as a barometer of teacher performance and student learning.
AFT NM earlier drafted a resolution summing up these issues, and is looking to get it passed by the legislature this session. To learn more about the resolution, go to http://promisefornewmexico.org.
“We all have an ideal vision of what our schools are supposed to look like, but we are often not included in the conversation,” said Ly during her speech. Ly also made reference to the “Keep the Promise” bus tour that recently ended its 12-city odyssey across the state.
In December, Keep the Promise had a televised town hall on KNME TV on the results of the tour’s findings. The petition, signed by 3,000 people, was later delivered to state education secretary Hanna Skandera.
“We then asked everyone what the challenges are to their vision,” Ly told the crowd. “Parents said they felt left out of the conversation. Teachers and administrators felt like their views didn’t matter and students said they no longer felt motivated. Instead, they all agreed, the focus had become on education ‘reforms’, reforms that turned our schools into overcrowded, high-stress, under-supplied and cold-testing machine centers.”
Weingarten got the audience on its feet by chanting “the people are in the Roundhouse” several times, before she delivered her speech.
In her speech, she made reference to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose birthday whose was Monday.
“That was the speech 50 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the March on Washington,” she said, bring the crowd to its feet once again.
Mills said she was inspired by the event, and said she will be visiting the Roundhouse often to do her part in getting AFT NM’s message to Los Alamos’ legislators.
“I was really pleased to see such a great turnout and a lot of energy,” Mills said. “I’m excited about the organization, and moving forward. She added that state representative Mimi Stewart is inviting the public to come to the legislature Jan. 25 and Feb. 9 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to speak about what they want to see in how the state manages public education.
Los Alamos’ own state representative, Stephanie Garcia Richard, said in an email that as a fellow educator, she understands AFT NM’s goals and commitment to reform that includes more input from the public.
“It is time for the state of New Mexico to reinvest in public education and guarantee a sufficient level of funding for smaller class size, fair compensation, quality professional development for our teachers and expansion of our educational programs,” she said.