[8/9] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

by Seth Saavedra │August 9th, 2018

Friends & Colleagues -

Inadvertently, this update has centered on New Mexico charter schools; a pleasant surprise for me, though, as charter schools and schools of choice are indispensable facets of the tapestry of educational opportunities across the state. Pretty much any list of the top schools in NM is at least half charters/schools of choice. All this in a state where less than 10% of students attend these types of schools.

Can and must we do better in ensuring charter schools (and ALL schools) do a better job of providing students both relevance and rigor? Yes. Particularly for charters as one of the foundational agreements is the granting of more autonomy in exchange for more accountability. Too often the latter half of that promise goes unfulfilled. That said, both the PEC and APS have done better with closing charters not keeping up their end of the deal.

All schools deserve this scrutiny. Ask yourself this, when was the last time you heard of a district school closing or undergoing significant changes as a result of low academic performance?  (Besides the recent MRI schools.)

And, with that, here's this week's roundup:

[LOCAL: NEWS] Southern New Mexico Towns Rally for Early Childhood. New Mexico In Depth recently reported on efforts underway in Jal (in the deep Southeast of NM) , Las Cruces, and Roswell to think creatively about better reaching their youngest students. By focusing on homegrown teachers, creative funding, and collaboration with the local community (including business and philanthropic leaders), Jal, Las Cruces, and Roswell are leading the charge on ensuring their students arrive in kindergarten ready to learn.


Children at the Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Jal gather at the family style tables to eat lunch.

Xchelzin Pena // New Mexico In Depth


[LOCAL: PODCAST] Albuquerque Charter School Creates Student-Led Podcast. Amy Biehl High School, located in the middle of downtown Albuquerque, in coordination with the University of New Mexico Digital Arts Department, released this podcast that documents the experiences and thoughts of students at the school.

Founded in 2000, ABHS is a state-authorized charter school earning an A or B since school grades have been issued. The school is named after a young anti-apartheid activist, Amy Biehl, killed while performing service work in South Africa. ABHS’s mission focuses on imparting the values of social justice and service, to its students and requires that students participate in social-minded activities and achieve a 75 percent to earn a passing grade in any course.

ABHS is a strong example of how schools can and must be about RIGOR and RELEVANCE - and how we must dismantle the tired notion that these are opposing ideas.

[LOCAL: NEWS] APS Setting Plans to Improve Charter School Accountability. Citing feedback from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), APS - which oversees 25 charter schools - is working to increase financial and academic transparency for its charter schools, many of which are high-performing and several of which are some of the worst schools in the city. This effort, combined with a tightening of charter oversight and authorizing from the state level, are much needed and welcomed.

Now, if only districts took the same responsibility for ensuring ALL their schools perform well and that students are learning in EVERY seat at EVERY grade level. Alas, this purported interest in school performance from APS is limited only to charter schools, not the vast preponderance of the 142 schools APS runs.

[LOCAL: VIEW] State Senator Affirms Support for New Mexico Charter Schools. My own state senator, Jerry Ortiz y Pino, shares his history with our charter schools and his continued optimism about their vital role in the New Mexico public education ecosystem:

My support for charter schools began in the late ’90s when I served as head of the Family and Community Services Department for the City of Albuquerque, N.M. We were concerned with how to deal with several problems confronting us simultaneously: businesses complained about their difficulty in hiring a prepared and motivated labor force, crime linked to serious drug abuse was spiraling out of control, and unemployment among minority young adults was off the charts.

Simply stated, I support charter schools because I have seen how they can complement mainstream high schools and expand educational coverage so that all our young people can be prepared adequately for life in our society. No mission is more important for our future.

[NATIONAL: RESEARCH] Rethinking Culturally Relevant Classrooms For Native American Students. This month, The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) released the first Native Community Schools handbook, “Sovereignty in Education: Creating Culturally Based Charter Schools in Native Communities.” The handbook shares an overview of how to found charter schools that fit the academic and cultural needs of American Indian students.

The online handbook highlights strong Native charter schools from across the country, including one here in New Mexico: "Walatowa Native Charter School, in Jemez Pueblo [and an A or B for the past three years], meets Native community needs by creating an environment where 'young people who understand their identity and appreciate their unique heritage are best-equipped to become effective students and citizens.'”