The Curious Case of APS's Special Education Survey: Part 1

On Friday, June 29th I pressed send on an email that gave me great anxiety. I knew receipt of this request would sound alarms and place me in the bullseye (again) of some of the most powerful leaders in the state.

Having called out both Albuquerque Public Schools and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF) before, I'm no stranger to their ire. I've received nasty emails, Facebook messages, phone calls, home visitors, and more. But, by asking for all communications between Ellen Bernstein (longtime head of ATF) and the APS school board/Superintendent Reedy, I knew things were about to ratchet up.

Why? Bloated bureaucracies loathe two things above all else:

  1. Those willing to confront and call out an immovable status quo, and
  2. Transparency.

Which is why I've found that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Predictably, within three hours of submitting my request, a red flag went straight to the top:

 

APS // Email from records request.

 

Nearly a month later, a manila envelope containing the flash drive with thousands of pages totaling more than 76MB arrived in my mailbox. With excitement and anxiety, I plugged the drive into my laptop and began poring over endless PDFs.

[For the record, working with the APS Records Compliance Office was straightforward and professional. That team is efficient, cordial, and committed to doing a great job; a refreshing experience for a City Center group. I thank them for their diligence.]

What did I learn from this digital treasure trove? Mostly a whole bunch of things we already know to be true. The top three not-at-all surprising realities are:


Paranoia Abounds

Apparently unaware of the old news regarding expansion by Mission Achievement & Success, (my) board member Lorenzo Garcia remains convinced that somehow MAS would take over the campus of Los Padillas elementary.

 

APS // Email from records request.

 

Never mind that this notion is completely unfounded and unrelated to Los Padillas earning five consecutive Fs to enter the Most Rigorous Intervention (MRI) process. (Although Los Padillas has most recently earned a C as a result of changes made at the school.) And never mind that MAS has earned four consecutive As with a similar student population to Los Padillas.

 

APS // Email from records request.

 

Working with MAS (rather than against), APS could and should find new ways to support the students and teachers in the South Valley, where most of MAS's students come from. Alas, these are pipe dreams for us eternal optimists.

Instead, what matters most to our APS board? Deflecting responsibility and shifting blame to anyone but themselves. Thus is the world of bloated bureaucracies.


Good News Travels Fast

Any post from NMEducation.org that mentions APS makes it to Ellen B. with great speed. Time after time, a member of the school board inevitably forwards on my email updates. Ultimately this is a good thing, though I've never heard directly from a board member, Ellen, nor Raquel.

 

APS // Email from records request.

 

I'll spare the gory details of the ad hominem attacks on me included in the messages, but what strikes me is it's never mentioned that I am a product of APS schools, an Albuquerque native, child of a lifelong educator, and so much more.

District leadership "loves" us students until we become adults and realize the decades of mediocre leadership under their belts. All that matters to APS is that I expect more of them and am willing to say it aloud; making me their public enemy number one. Disagreement is not welcomed.


Coordinating Behind-the-Scenes

Beyond the daily messages between APS and ATF leadership, the degree to which these hypothetically at odds groups (remember that they negotiate with our tax dollars and $1.34 billion budget) coordinate and, dare I say, collude is fascinating.

Digging through the flash drive, I encountered a surprising document titled "APS Special Ed Survey Proposal". APS and ATF coordinating with a polling firm known for political surveys? Intrigued, I dug in.

 

APS // Email from records request.

 

Not only did APS end up footing a majority of the $16,000+ bill for the survey (after originally agreeing to split it 50/50), they learned that the biggest thing obstructing their special education teachers and employees is ... themselves. More on that next.

Tune in soon for part two where I dig into the results from this recently completed survey.

 

APS // Email from records request.