Trustees look to build coalition

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NMPED > District seeks meaningful response to mandates

By Tris DeRoma

As the Los Alamos Public Schools administration and its board of trustees continue to carefully tinker with state mandates in an effort to appease educators, all eyes are turning to a very important meeting due to take place in March.
The meeting will be hosted by LAPS, and it includes all the other school districts in the LAPS region, known as “District II.” Those districts include Chama, Cuba, Española, Jemez Mountain, Mesa Vista, Pecos, Penasco, Pojoaque, Questa, Santa Fe, and Taos. All of these districts as well as Los Alamos belong to the New Mexico School Boards Association. While the agenda will feature many issues, one topic that will be sure to come up is the series of mandates the New Mexico Public Education Department recently implemented, and how each district is handling them.
Much has been made of the mandates, as teachers have complained to the press at how much the mandates, which revolve around a teacher evaluation system and the teaching of “Common Core,” which is a national set of standards designed to have every student in the country performing well in reading and math.
The new teacher evaluation system, known as “NMTeach,” is a result of a waiver agreement the state negotiated as a substitute for the No Child Left Behind act. Many teachers have complained that it focuses too much on documentation and evaluation of the teaching process at the expense of what they’re in the classroom to do, teach. As a result of their complaints, the school system has been devising ways to lighten its teachers’ load, by dropping certain mandates and streamlining others.
The Los Alamos district is in the process of preparing a letter to the New Mexico Public Education Department about what it has done and why. At the March meeting, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt hopes to find other districts that are doing the same thing, or thinking about it, so the district will have an ally in its negotiations with NMPED.
“Showcasing our facilities, our students, making friends with all the boards in Northern New Mexico, when we need friends, I support the recommendation that we host this event,” he said.
Schmidt said he plans to host it at Aspen Elementary School.
While the recommendation passed, one member voted against having the meeting here, Board Secretary Matt Williams.
Let me get to the reason why I don’t want to have it here,” he told the board. “I’ve been to one of these, and I’ve only been to one, and the table next to me, the people were taking out snuff and chewing tobacco and passing it all around in a middle school cafeteria and calling themselves ‘board members’ made me sick to my stomach. For them to be right there and no one saying anything about it, I don’t want to go to another regional meeting, and I don’t want those people coming here.”
Williams went on further to state that if the board does pass the motion, something should be included that puts the other districts on notice.
“...To see that type of behavior by people who were supposed to be representing the schools was just sickening. If we put forth a motion, I would like to see it include some commentary that gets back to NMSBA and the regional board that that type of behavior was going on at the last meeting and if that comes into our school district, they will be escorted out,” he said.
Schmidt said that would be fine, and reminded the board that it would be an opportune time to get LAPS’ position on the new teacher evaluation system out to the other districts through a keynote speaker.
“As hosts, we control the agenda and the keynote speakers,” Schmidt said. “Why don’t we use that as an opportunity to teach our friends from PED (Public Education Department) from whomever we select as a speaker.”
While board member Kevin Honnell generally agreed with Williams on his observations, he thought the meeting would be valuable as well. He said it would be an opportune time to “compare notes” with other districts on how they were handling teacher evaluations.
“Maybe we can form an alliance that speaks with a little bit of a louder voice,” he said, adding that though it may not be possible, “It does strike me as an opportunity.”
Board Chair Jim Hall added that the meeting could also go a long way toward changing the perceptions other districts may have of Los Alamos, which may also help them politically.
“We are perceived (by other districts) as too rich, too white and too much ivory hill, and this is coming from people that have a lot of votes and a lot of influence in the state legislature,” he said.
“I think that we should use any opportunity we have to disabuse people of that image is worthwhile,” he said.
“One of my concerns is the lack of communication with other districts that are in the same boat as we are.
“Most of us have no idea how others feel about this evaluation system and the other issues that have been raised.”