Trustees walk fine line

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Education > District looks for workarounds in new evaluation system

By Tris DeRoma

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.

“We knew this evaluation system was coming, but we did not know the level of work they wanted us to do,” Andrea Determan said in reference to the NMTeach system.

Kathryn Vandenkieboom, the principal of Aspen Elementary School, also weighed in with the board talking about some of the troubles she’s had with the system.

She explained what she thought was specifically wrong with the system, mainly how time consuming and technical it is.

“The problem is, there are three observations per teacher, two walkthroughs (observing in the classroom) two evaluations of domains one and four...I’m afraid to open any of those because I’m afraid I’m going to mess them up,” she said, adding that the fundamental problem is the job of evaluating teachers has become too big and complicated.

“The problem is that for years, our job has kept growing,” Vandenkieboom said. “The job is too big to do perfectly, and I don’t like not doing my job perfectly... there are just too many irons in the fire right now.”

The board’s motion comes in two parts: the first part being identification of specific facets of the programs that don’t seem to be working, or at the very least, taking away from teaching students. This process will be accomplished with a mixture of district officials and teachers. At the next school board meeting, Nov. 12, the administration will present its findings to the board, as well as present arguments as to why it chose to put on hold or modify certain parts of the NMTeach system.

The second part of the motion calls for a carefully-worded letter to the NMPED as to why the district chose to do what it did while at the same time appealing to the common goals and commitments the Los Alamos school district has with the PED. (The full motion can be found on LAMonitor.com.)

After the motion was modified with a number of friendly amendments from other board members, School Board President Jim Hall cautioned them as well as the audience of teachers and administrators, that this strategy is not going to be easy.

“I think that even if this is successful, it comes with considerable risk,” he said. “I think we should try all the other alternatives first. If there are going to be changes in the New Mexico Education System, they are going to take time. This specifically is probably going to play out over years. This is not going to be resolved by next year. We have to find ways to do our job for our kids,” he said.

Also in the audience was the president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, Ellen Mills. She said she thought the administration and the board are moving in the right direction.

When asked if she thought the board was being aggressive enough in its stance regarding the new state mandates, she said progress was being made.

“I think we’re starting, which is encouraging,” she said. “It was really good to see what’s been happening at the last two meetings. I think everyone spoke very well, I’m very encouraged,” she said.

ccomplete text of motion sent to NMPED

I am disappointed that the Oct. 16, 2013 about Los Alamos instructors' concerns about the excessive paperwork involved in fulfilling new state mandated did not contain more specific explanatory details.
Tris DeRoma writes in the Oct. 16 edition of the Los Alamos Monitor that readers might find the complete text of the motion sent to the NMPED elsewhere on the Monitor's Web site. ["The full motion can be found on LAMonitor.com."] Unfortunately, De Roma failed to even include the date of the edition where I might find the full text of the motion that was sent to the PED!

I have often found that the search engine on the Monitor Web site to be, quite frequently, not very helpful. For this, my most recent search,I used at least 15-20 very specific and very broad search terms (and others in between.) I became rather frustrated that the only article to appear as a search result is the Oct. 16, 2013, article that refers me to an article that, in so far as the search engine is concerned, may not even exists.

Beyond my inability to locate the full text of the motion, I also wished that the Monitor article would have explained what Kathryn Vandenkieboom, principal of Aspen School,meant when she referred to "domains one and four," as part of the new state educational mandates.
Los Alamos educators' complaints about educational mandates reflect the concerns of many other instructors across the nation. I don't know whether or not the lack of details in the Oct. 16 Monitor article is a result of a drastic editing. Whatever the cause, state educational mandates and the enormous amount of time-consuming paperwork they present for educators. Expediting and, in many cases,adapting and improving these mandates is crucial to the futures of all students. Monitor readers need to be fully informed about these mandates and about educators' frustrations in implementing them. At the very least, I would have appreciated at the VERY LEAST the publication date of the Monitor article contains the full text of the Los Alamos educators' motion.

Full text of board's motion

The full text of the motion can be found here: