by Seth Saavedra │Thursday, June 28th, 2018
Following education news in Albuquerque often feels akin to what I imagine living on Mars will be like.
We're short on water, surrounded by mountains, and live in a bubble. We take our orders from the same two or three self-appointed leaders. The dust storms are mesmerizing - though brutal. And outsiders observe us wondering, "How is that possible?"
Despite being on summer break, APS has been no less dystopian. Let's take recent events in order:
- June 7: After a long back-and-forth, NMPED required APS to hold "school choice" events for parents of Hawthorne Elementary students, informing them of additional school options;
- June 18: Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers' Federation (ATF) for 23+ years, sends an email to members saying the events encourage parents "to flee to charter schools";
- June 20: With ATF leadership picketing outside the event, APS holds the first of these events. No parents make it inside the school to hear about their options;
- June 25: A mere year after welcoming La Resolana Leadership Academy into APS, the seven member board of education votes 4-3 to rescind the school's charter;
- June 26: The governing council president for La Resolana, Rob Leming, announces that they will appeal the APS Board's decision to close the school; and
- June 26: State Senator Mimi Stewart - long time APS teacher, former ATF member, and current head of our Legislative Education Study Committee - tweets out "Hawthorne is a great community school!"
This series of unfortunate events is as calamitous as the hypocrisy is breathtaking. Though I'm not one usually at a loss for words, even I struggle to unwind this twisted web of old school politics - at the expense of parents and students - that rules the day in Albuquerque.
Instead of trying to make sense of the senseless and indefensible, allow me to share a list of observations:
- I'll give credit where credit is due. Our APS board should demand more of low-performing schools and conduct oversight on either school turnaround or closure work. What's unacceptable here is that politics drive their decisions, not what's best for teachers or students.
- The "school choice" fairs, by pure numbers, highlight mostly other APS schools. Nothing in the NMPED instructions requires an emphasis on charters or any other school. Only that all the schools shared perform better than Hawthorne.
- By picketing and using intimidation tactics to frighten Hawthorne families, ATF leadership has reached a new low. How does it feel to be a parent seeking merely to learn more about other options for your child? You show up and park only to see a handful of loud picketers led by someone who hasn't been in a classroom in a quarter century. This is a rather despicable way to treat families. APS should be embarrassed none of their parents made it inside;
- If the closing of an APS school is so important to Ellen, why wasn't she making a similar stink about the board's decision to close La Resolana? Well, the answer's simple: even though it's an APS school, it's also a charter school. And, as Leming points out, hypocrisy and cronyism abound on this decision.
- La Resolana compares favorably to Hawthorne. Both are underperforming and in need of improvement. Yet, the board decides to get tough on La Resolana while passing the buck on Hawthorne. Again, it's all about the politics, not the kids;
- As anyone who's been to an APS board meeting knows, it's Ellen calling the shots, especially to Barbara Petersen and David Peercy. Don't believe me? Attend one. Several times a meeting, after a hard question comes up, there is a pause in conversation. Ellen begins furiously tapping at her phone. On queue, three or four board members glance down, read the text, and parrot what they've just read. It's a highly organized echo chamber.
- Our education elders have a hard time with reality. I responded to Mimi Stewart's tweet with data about the alarming lack of learning happening at Hawthorne. She responded with a logical disagreement about the importance of reading on grade level. Just kidding. She blocked me within thirty minutes. This coming after she left the NMEducation.org mailing list six months ago. I'll leave it to your imagination as to who the others to unsubscribe have been.
- These so-called education leaders can't stomach opposing ideas or any thought or data that disrupts their hermetically sealed bubble of stale ideas. Why listen to others when you have the same five or six individuals coordinating behind-the-scenes to make decisions?
Until Albuquerque wrenches ourselves free from this cabal of education mob bosses, we'll be stuck in the time warp on the wrong side of the looking glass. And it’s students who bear the brunt of this foolishness.