• 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.

  • UNM-LA forges ahead with plans

    While the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos did not get the funds from taxpayers to support and expand its programs this year, campus officials are still optimistic things are going to turn out well.

    At a recent meeting, campus Director Dr. Cedric Page, and members of the community college’s advisory board discussed the outcome of a town-wide vote that took place in September. The vote was for a 2-mil tax levy, funds from which would have allowed the school to expand its reach into the community as well as end its reliance on finite funding for a number of academic programs.

    But, Los Alamos residents voted down the measure 2,908 to 2,662.

    Page said the meeting was mostly about analyzing the vote and deciding upon a general direction. They compared the vote to the same attempt made in 2010, as well as the vote earlier this year where residents approved Los Alamos Public Schools’ second $20 million bond for the reconstruction of Aspen Elementary School and other district projects.

    One observation they made was that the voters were similar in profile in terms of party affiliation and age. They also observed the LAPS bond vote had a 6,300 voter turnout where the September UNM-LA vote had about a thousand less.

  • Teachers rail against New Mexico mandate

    When your school board seriously debates defying a state mandate, you know things are bad.

    That’s exactly what happened Tuesday night after the Los Alamos Board of Education sat through hours of testimony from the district’s teachers. The teachers urged the board to help them stop or at least slow down, a new teacher and administrator evaluation process being ushered in by New Mexico Education Secretary designate Hanna Skandera.

    The program is called NMTeach, and is billed as “New Mexico’s Educator Effectiveness System.”

    Before the teachers made their presentation, Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn and Curriculum Expert Pam Miller gave theirs, hoping to dispel the many fears and misperceptions the teachers may have about the system.

    A summary sheet created by the Public Education Department emphasized three facts: that the system was created with plenty of teacher input, that only administrators from their district would be doing observations and that the system is not something that was “made up” as a means to fire teachers.

    While teachers said they understood the PED’s goal of making sure teachers are effective in the classroom, this system they said, has a lot of bugs in it.

  • Board confronts declines in student population

    In the coming months, the Los Alamos Board of Education will be considering if something should be done, if anything, about the declining, in-district student population in Los Alamos Public Schools.

    The decline in enrollment was pointed out during a presentation and an accompanying report to the Los Alamos Board of Education by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn.

    While the decline is not a severe one, (2.69 percent since 2012) Washburn and Schmidt projected the enrollment decline out over five years to demonstrate what could happen to their funding if the trend continues.

    “Mr. Washburn developed a five-year look ahead that illustrates the impact from a 2 percent, 3 percent and 5 percent decline in enrollment. Each decline in enrollment will be accompanied by a reduction in state funding.

  • Paint Fight

    Los Alamos High School sutdents took part in the annual paint fight over the weekend.

  • Smith's donates $49K to community groups, schools

    Smith’s Food and Drug distributed about $49,000 of annual proceeds from it’s “Earn and Learn” program to 20 community organizations and schools Wednesday.
    The top five earners were Aspen Elementary School, $4,630.96; Barranca Elementary School, $5,809.82; Mountain Elementary School, $5,689.19; Los Alamos Middle School, $5,193.30 and Los Alamos High School, $5,604.16.
    Superintendent of School Dr. Gene Schmidt was at the ceremony to show his support for the schools as well as the community.
    “This is one more example of how a business in our community reinvests,” said Schmidt. “When we see the checks go out, they go out all across the community. He added this is also about Los Alamos residents supporting its school system.
    “This wouldn’t be possible if people didn’t support their local businesses,” he said. “Even as we thank Smith’s for its contributions our schools, we thank the community for supporting local businesses.”
    Residents helped raise money for the recipients by linking their “Fresh Values” cards to the school or organization of their choice.

  • Teacher union fights state evaluation

    According to Ellen Mills, president of the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees, a recent meeting with state education secretary designee Hanna Skandera did not go well.

    As part of a delegation looking to modify Skandera’s new evaluation system for teachers, to see how well they are teaching students using the new “Common Core” method, Mills told the other members of LAFSE that Skandera did not seem interested in what she and the others had to say.

    “...While we asked that she slow the process down, that we do a pilot, maybe we focus on one area rather than jumping into the deep end with both cement shoes on,” she said, acknowledging that Skandera seemed to be listening to them. “After two hours of this dialogue… she stood up and said there will be no waiver, we are not slowing it down, we are going for full implementation. I then thought to myself, at that point, then why did we talk to you for the past few hours?”

  • LAPS proposes 'High School 2.0'

    The Los Alamos Public Schools is looking for seed money for its latest project; alternative programs for students who want to skip the college-after high school route, yet find a rewarding job upon graduating high school.

    Called "High School 2.0,” the program seeks to arm qualified students with a high school diploma as well as an Associate’s Degree from the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos in the following fields: fire science, pre-engineering with a focus on robotics, a premedical degree with a focus on emergency medical service and possibly other degree programs.

    “We already have a real solid AP program in place; what we’re trying to do is address the other end of the spectrum, kids that might be interested in a career-type path as well as those who at risk of dropping out because they see our current programs as meeting their needs,” said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn, who also co-authored the proposal to fund the program.