Enough is Enough APS. We All Deserve Better.

by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, May 17th, 2018


The war of words rages on in Albuquerque over the New Mexico Public Education Department's attempts to improve three APS campuses.

The three elementary schools in question are Hawthorne, Los Padillas, and Whittier.

 
 

Hawthorne and Whittier are the only two schools in New Mexico that've earned six consecutive F grades in a row. Los Padillas has received five consecutive Fs.

Last month, after months of back and forth, improvement plans for Los Padillas and Whittier received conditional approval from NMPED. Read the approval letters here. Meanwhile, Hawthorne must "champion and provide choice", meaning APS must inform all parents of nearby school options and support students who need transferring.

These are reasonable and logical responses to schools that have underserved students and teachers for the better part of a decade. Right?

Not if you ask leadership of APS or the Albuquerque Teachers Federation (ATF). Their responses have been apoplectic and centered on damaged egos instead of the best interests of all teachers, students, and families.

In what world, besides the echo chamber of disconnected leaders, is ensuring parents are aware of all their schooling options a bad thing?

APS Board President David Peercy (an engineer by trade) doesn’t see any problems with the schools. Barbara Peterson - board member for district four which includes Hawthorne Elementary, retired APS teacher, and former ATF political coordinator - doesn't either. And, as a retired APS teacher and ATF darling, Sen. Mimi Stewart only finds issues with school grades, not schools themselves.

I can’t make this stuff up. The closer one looks, the more this appears to be a concerted effort by a retired old guard seeking to preserve a system that maintains their lifestyles at the expense of our most vulnerable communities. When our leaders have more allegiance to school buildings than the teachers and students in them, we've lost our way.

As a "minority-majority" state, this is also a reminder of how important diversity - in age, experience, and race/ethnicity - is in making decisions for students of color. When our leaders don't share backgrounds with our students we get disconnected, ungrounded viewpoints like these.

According to an email sent out by ATF President Ellen Bernstein - who's been in the position for 22+ years - the apocalypse is nigh:

 
 

ATF is also listed as the creator of a Facebook group named "Save Hawthorne Elementary School" which continues to simultaneously misinform parents and tout changes coming to the school.

These are changes, mind you, that came about as result of the improvement plans required by NMPED.

 
 

Much of this stems from an email on Friday, May 4th, where ATF leadership writes:

"On Monday at 4:30pm, we have a Save Our Schools meeting to plan actions to help save Hawthorne Elementary … this invitation is for ATF members only. We will involve the larger community after we do the initial planning."

ATF leadership's approach is to determine the outcome they want first, then foist that self-interest onto parents and students. They are also fomenting for something to walk-out about. In recent emails they've written:

"Teachers Walking Out-what would it take here? –school closings, charters, evaluations…" and "Ellen talked with KUNM about the nationwide strikes and our context locally … we can have a conversation about this. What will be the issue that will galvanize APS teachers?"

Ellen and APS’s main contention with the MRI process - which is part of our federally mandated ESSA education plan - is that school letter grades are "flawed". So let's look at Hawthorne outside of the six consecutive Fs:

 
 

Only 1 in 4 of Hawthorne students can read on grade level. And 1 in 10 do math on grade level.

Well how does Hawthorne compare to similar schools? Taken alongside 128 schools across NM with similar demographics it doesn't look any better:

 
 

And, finally, how is Hawthorne doing for both high- and low-performing students? By now, you know the answer:

 
 

We must also bear in mind that the hard working teachers of Hawthorne are ensnared by the same inept leadership that allows schools to flounder for five years and more. I've met with many of these teachers. They are passionate, ready for a change, and frustrated by the lack of visionary leadership. 

Nationwide school turnaround efforts are always painful, but also commonplace and spurring much needed innovation. So, why do Albuquerque's education leaders insist on fighting a process aimed at turning around three of the lowest-performing schools in the entire country?

  • First, they don't like school grading. But, even without specific letter grades, the learning outcomes are dire. See above for proof. Plus, the fact Hawthorne is permitted to earn 6 Fs in a row shows no one is "abandoning" the school. How many Fs, then, before we parents and taxpayers have the right to demand something better?;
     
  • They thrive off of a constant fight against NMPED. District and ATF leadership make money from peddling paranoia, and have a problem for every solution offered;
     
  • They think this is a "push to charter schools." Which makes no sense outside of City Center. NMPED instructed APS to inform parents of ALL options, including nearby APS schools. And, if parents decide to stay enrolled at Hawthorne, that's their right. Schools should earn students, not trap them based on zip code;
     
  • APS continues to be inept at both running and overseeing schools. Admitting that Hawthorne needs immediate intervention also means conceding fault. Our schools should be governed by logic and common sense, not personal interests; and
     
  • ATF leadership is looking for something to fire up members about in a build up to similar walkouts we've seen in Arizona and Oklahoma. They are hoping for something bigger that makes them feel important. This, despite recent increases in salary and overall education spending.

APS struggles enough on its own teaching our students without outside forces seeking to turn this into trench warfare for the sake of personal gain. The time has come for ATF leadership to get out of the way of turning around these schools.

As the Journal recently asked, "At what point do the adults concerned with education in New Mexico come out of their fighters’ stances and truly focus on the students they should be serving?"