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LAPS hosts second forum with Steinhaus

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Education > Board could select candidate tonight

By Tris DeRoma

Wednesday night was Kurt Steinhaus’ night to win the people over.
He didn’t disappoint.
A virtually exact number of people showed up to see if Steinhaus had what it takes to be the district’s next superintendent as it did for Chris Marczak’s presentation Monday.
And like Marczak, he came prepared. Every one of the audience members that attended received a four-page handout from the superintendent candidate. One espoused his education and leadership philosophies, another his future goals for district, another paper listed the values that guided him as an educator and the last one talked about what values he wanted the district to reflect.
He started off his presentation talking about his deep professional and personal ties to Los Alamos, ties that included his first job as a kid running a neighborhood lawn mowing service to his student teaching career, getting married (he and his wife Jo Beth had their reception at Fuller Lodge), to his becoming director of Community Programs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
After his presentation, the audience wasted no time with asking him the tough questions about funding for education and teacher evaluation.
Steinhaus began by reminding his audience that he has had plenty of experience working with the New Mexico State Legislature, and that since at one time during his career, he was partly responsible for the state’s education budget, he knew a thing or two about how to get things done in Santa Fe.
“My work with the legislators was standing in front of the legislature, testifying on bills on behalf of the State Board of Education because we had their policies and their proposed budget and our job was to support the State Board of Education’s proposal in education.”
He further emphasized his experience working with state legislators by reminding the audience that the $8 million the schools receive from the U.S. Department of Energy each year for student enrichment should no longer be taken for granted, that the local schools are going to need someone with LANL ties and federal legislative experience to make sure that comes through every year.
“That $8 million dollars used to be a line item in the Federal Appropriations Act, and it’s no longer a line item. It’s actually a part of the prime contract for LANS (Los Alamos National Security) to manage the laboratory, he said. “If the lab, in a worse case scenario has to go through a rebid of the prime contract, that $8 million is subject to going to zero.” He added that he’s very worried about that, since as far as he knew all the other communities that have national laboratories have all lost that subsidy.
Several years ago, the state acquired a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, one of the stipulations being that the state comes up with its own teacher evaluation system. New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera did, calling it “NMTEACH.” However, many teachers across the state, including those in Los Alamos, have roundly criticized the system, basically calling it short on teacher-student time, long on testing and micromanaging educators.
Steinhaus said he thinks that the state should not be trying to get everyone to comply through rules and punishments but incentives. He thought that if he could somehow free up a teacher’s time so they could spend more time teaching.
Steinhaus said he would like to see the state start an incentive program that includes rewarding high performing school districts with less regulation and more control over how the district evaluates its teachers.
He also added that the key right now is to make sure evaluators really know the tools of the current evaluation system and that there is a constant loop of feedback so no one in the system is left wondering or confused by the process.
“The only way people learn, children and adults, is by getting feedback. That’s how we grow,” he said. He also said that if he did get a hand in redesigning the evaluation system, he would not take it on himself, but he would also include parents and teachers.
Steinhaus reminded the audience that there are some certain realities about the process that could probably not be changed, and shouldn’t be.
“I don’t think we could have an teacher evaluation system any more without some kind of assessment scores about students,” he said.
Steinhaus also said that teacher evaluation systems should not be about rules and punishment, but about professional growth of their teachers.
Some audience members asked what he thought about the issue of declining enrollment and closing schools to save money.
“At the very surface, it looks like ‘oh, take two elementary schools and combine them. We don’t have to pay for two principals now. It’s going to save us a bunch of money.’ I’ve been a part of this process several times, and when you dig down into the data it’s not always cheaper to close one school,” he said. “I would work really hard to do a data analysis about the impact of the out-of-district students and the size of the schools and work with the school board to make a recommendation that is based on that data.”
According to his LinkedIn page, Steinhaus started out his educational career in the Alamogordo school district, as teacher, then as a department head. He held those positions from 1976-1988, before moving on to becoming a division director at the New Mexico Department of Public Education in the Accountability and Information Services department. He then became assistant superintendent. He served in those positions in 1988 and 1989.
Following that, he was deputy secretary of education under Gov. Bill Richardson from 2003-2007.
The Los Alamos School Board has scheduled a meeting tonnight to talk about the two superintendent candidates Steinhaus and Marczak. According to some sources, an initial decision — barring contract negotiations — could be made this evening.