Trust, But Verify: Four Charters Seek A New Home in APS

Back on October 24th, I drove over to the twin white towers in Uptown that are APS headquarters. That evening was the public hearing for four state-authorized charters asking APS to take them in, despite disappointing results. The APS board was not in attendance so the proceedings were led by charter school director, Joseph Escobedo, Ed.D. In attendance were a variety of interested parties, including students, parents, teachers, and administrators of the four schools: Academy of Trades & Technology,  Architecture Construction and Engineering (ACE) Leadership, Health Leadership, and Technology Leadership. The latter three high schools are affiliated with the Leadership High School Network and the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, which also operates Siembra Leadership High School (F), which is already under the auspices of APS.

School Grades and Student Outcomes for the Four Schools

School Grades and Student Outcomes for the Four Schools

As you can see above, these schools have struggled to deliver on the promise of education for their students. (And, of course, school grades are not the entire story of a school, but they do help provide families and policymakers with a better picture of how schools are doing.) I know many hardworking, dedicated individuals who work for and lead these schools; people I respect. However, I believe that, particularly when it comes to our kids, we can’t protect the feelings of adults over the best interests of students, especially the vulnerable students who attend these four schools. Schools must be accountable to our kids and communities, regardless of their intent.

Among the many people speaking at the input hearing that October evening was a school governing board member who said, and I quote, “Our kids can’t function in other schools and bring down other students. And when they aren’t in our school they’re out there in gangs or getting pregnant.” My jaw dropped and my stomach turned.

Instead of seeing their students as assets to be developed, regardless of their personal circumstances, this “leader” was using their identities as reasons NOT to educate them. Let me be clear, such a deficit mindset about our neediest students has zero place in education. If your mission is to educate these underserved populations and you then use that fact as the reason less than five percent of them read or write on grade level, then please exit the building.

Yes, many of our students come from poverty and traumatic environments. This poses unique and significant challenges for schools. And yet, how are we to change that reality without schools embracing the challenge and fully committing to providing all students the best education possible so they become our future community leaders? Reading and writing matter, even for schools that offer a specialized or industry-specific education. How else might one become an architect or engineer if you don't graduate high school doing both on grade level?

This is also personal. As a high school dropout who got my GED after attending Freedom High School, which is an APS alternative high school (a “B” school), I was one of those students that typical high schools failed. I, too, had an IEP, grew up in public housing, and on food stamps. I’m sure I had teachers who wrote me off as “too troubled” to learn. What a shame. If I hadn’t had an instructor at TVI (now CNM) reignite that desire to learn inside me, I’m not sure where I’d be.

Oddly enough, APS offers several alternative high schools, including the aforementioned Freedom High, which are doing quite well in delivering those crucial results for children. Clearly, APS has figured out some effective alternative schooling models and can perhaps help improve instructional practices at these four sites. The opportunity for cross-pollination appears ripe for the picking. And if APS is looking to serve more "at-risk" students, why not expand the campuses and enrollment of the successful schools they already have?

APS Already Has Some Successful Alternative High Schools

APS Already Has Some Successful Alternative High Schools

My recommendation is that APS conditionally accepts these four schools. The board should allow for a one-year authorization for each school, contingent upon them agreeing to demonstrable and meaningful academic improvement. The mission and positive motivations of these schools is clear, and now the student learning needs to match those admirable values. If at the end of next school year little or no progress is made, then APS must commit to helping each student find an appropriate and academically successful school.

Comparison of APS SAMs Schools

Comparison of APS SAMs Schools

The APS board and charter school division must also grapple with the reality that by taking in these four schools, APS graduation rates will drop by a few percentage points overall, and particularly for female and Hispanic students. For a district already struggling with some of New Mexico’s lowest graduation rates, taking on these schools MUST be dependent upon a mutual commitment to significantly improve their results. As shown in the table above, APS already has seven plus similar schools with higher graduation rates. This would be a particular liability for a board and district under so much scrutiny to improve graduation rates.

I'll add that while graduation rates are incredibly important, I might be swayed if any of these four schools shared substantive data indicating their students are entering industry careers at prolific rates. For example, how many students leave school to take positions in engineering, health, or technology AND make living wages? I fully support any school that delivers these types of results for students and sets them on productive career paths. However, the onus is on each school to demonstrate they're achieving their stated mission.

Yes, the mission and vision of a school matters greatly, and so do results. Our students and city can’t afford to have one without the other. Let’s hold ourselves and our schools accountable.

[11/14] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends and Colleagues -

This week I have updates on APS District One, New Mexico's science teacher of the year, the need to let families know when their children aren't reading on grade level, and some positive news about the outlook for New Mexican workers without a college degree.

As always, your feedback and social media sharing are greatly appreciated. Please think of one person to send this to and encourage them to sign onto my mailing list. Here's this weeks updates:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] APS Fills District One Seat. Filling the opening left by the resignation of Analee Maestas, the APS School Board voted 4-2 (video of deliberations and vote) to fill the vacancy with South Valley native and Rio Grande High School graduate Yolanda Montoya-Cordova who, according to her application materials, is currently the "State Administrator- Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act."

    Yolanda was by far the most supported candidate at the South Valley forum. Her stance on accountability is reasonable (it's a necessary tool for improvement, not a punitive measure) and she stated support for charter schools. Kudos to the APS board for listening to the District One community in selecting her. As always, it's up to us as advocates to hold our elected officials accountable to decisions and policies that keep students the primary focus. Too often we are caught up in negotiating the interests of adults at the expense of students who are excluded from those conversations.

    As Yolanda writes in her application: "Education is a vital component for youth, their families and the community. Education is the door to lifelong skills associated with academic milestones necessary to reach post-secondary and career goals. Education is also a major contributor to important skill development related to positive relationships, community and civic engagement, personal decision making, and economic success for individuals, their families and the community." Let's hold her and the APS board accountable to this vision.
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] NM Science Teacher of the Year Named. Jessica Sanders, science teacher at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, was awarded as New Mexico's 2017 Science Teacher of the Year. Lauded for her contributions in and out of the classroom, she is also a finalist for the statewide Golden Apple Award, which goes to seven New Mexico teachers annually. 
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] New Mexico Parents Not Notified. In a continuation of many years of poor communication from districts, most of our parents are still not notified when their children are not on track to read by the end of third grade, a pivotal time for students. In APS, about 9,500 1st-3rd graders were not proficient in reading last year, but only about 1,000 of those students received required notifications.

    Not only do our families deserve to know, there is good research backing this mandate. In the research report "Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation" by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, researcher Donald Hernandez finds that: "We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven't succeeded by 3rd grade it's more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then." The report also finds:

         - Third grade literacy is a stronger predictor of high school graduation than poverty;
         - 89% of students in poverty who read on level by 3rd grade graduate on time; and
         - A student who can't read on grade level by 3rd grade is 4x less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does

    Regardless of how one feels about mandatory or voluntary retention in third grade based on literacy, what is inarguable is that parents deserve to know if their student is not on target for reading and, just as importantly, what the district/school is doing to remedy to situation, and how parents can support. To not even let parents know of such a pivotal moment is immoral and detrimental to students. I've met parents from all walks of life and with all manner of challenges, however I've not met one parent who doesn't want what's best for their child and to know how they're doing in school.
  • [NATIONAL: OPINION] State Testing Improvements. As states ponder the next evolution and era of accountability and testing, my hope is that state policy makers and advocates push for a continued improvements to assessments and how results are reported to families. Mike Petrilli at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute offers sensible suggestions many states are already undertaking:

         - Move state tests to the last four weeks of the school year to give teachers more time to teach—and reducing dead time at year’s end (the previous state testing window started in March);
         - Require that teachers receive the scores of their incoming students before the next year starts;
         - Include in the score reports that are sent home to parents: (1) Information about students’ strengths and areas for improvement; (2) specific suggestions for actions parents can take on their child’s behalf; (3) data on proficiency and growth over time, over multiple years; and, when available, (4) projections of how students with scores like theirs are expected to score on the ACT or SAT;
         - Return the results from any formative assessments, like the MAP or iReady, to classroom teachers within one week and to parents within 30 days;
         - Publish the statewide testing schedule two years in advance to give districts maximum flexibility to plan their calendars; and
         - Ensure and confirm that test score reports actually reach parents
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] Good Jobs That Pay Without an MBA. According to a joint effort study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce and J.P. Morgan Chase, "there are 30 million well-paying jobs in the United States that do not require a bachelor’s degree." Of course, our students still need to graduate high school with the baseline skills (ahem, dare I say proficiencies) in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies necessary to be competitive for these types of jobs in the globalized 21st century. 

There are 30 million well-paying jobs in the United States that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Many of which are in the West and South, including New Mexico.

NM Outlook

[11/7] For Our Future: This Week's Education News & More

Friends & Colleagues -

This week I have the final four for APS's District One board seat, a story of promise from down in Deming, reflections on New Mexico from our most recent Secretary of Education, and some surprising insights about STEM fields and nuances within the sector.

As always, your feedback is welcomed, as are social media and other sharing. Here's this week's roundup:

  • [LOCAL: NEWS] Four Candidates In Mix For APS District One. The names are in for APS's District One open board seat, which covers the South Valley/ Downtown area. The four applicants are: Claudia Benavidez, Jude Gene Chavez, Yolanda Montoya-Cordova, and Lee L. Romero. Each link will provider their respective application materials - including questionnaires, letters of intent, and resumes. The current board will select a new member on 11/13 after public interviews with all four candidates.

    Additionally, APS is hosting an applicant forum this Thursday, 11/9 from 6-7:30pm at Rio Grande High School (2300 Arenal Road SW Albuquerque, NM 87105). All four candidates will take questions from the public and Spanish-language services will be available. Questions about this forum, or any others, can be directed to or 505-880-3729.

    District One covers an area that has over 20 APS schools, including some of the most culturally rich and diverse areas of town (and the famed Dia De Los Muertos Marigolds Parade). District One families and students deserve a forward-looking, hard-charging leader willing to buck the status quo in their name. Let's hold our district accountable for educating our babies.
  • [LOCAL: NEWS] Deming Finds Support In Training Program. As reported in the Deming Headlight, school leaders and teachers there are finding optimism and value in Teachers Pursuing Excellence (TPE), a two-year NMPED program working with six districts and 294 teachers this year. Focused on providing teachers skills to elevate their craft, TPE also provides a mentorship component to strengthen peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. Let's hope more districts support their teachers in these ways, providing meaningful professional development - and stipends - to the hard-working maestros educating our students.
  • [NATIONAL: INTERVIEW] Former New Mexico Secretary of Education Reflects. In a wide-ranging interview, former New Mexico Secretary of Ed, Hanna Skandera, reflects on her time in The Land of Enchantment and where she sees us going from here. Whether you're a fan, a detractor, or ambivalent about the changes seen under her administration, I highly recommend reading the full interview. What's inarguable is her optimism for what's possible in New Mexico and the implications for our future:
    What’s at stake for New Mexico is our state’s future. We have chronically been at the bottom when it comes to economic and educational outcomes. If we want economics to change, educational outcomes have to change.
    We’re making progress, but we have work to do. We’ve reached a tipping point. What matters most is believing that all kids can learn and then never giving up until we deliver on that promise for every single child.
    If we do deliver on that promise, our educational outcomes will continue to rise, as will our economy and the future of our state. And it’s really no different for the country. We need to address the failed systems, and create systems that acknowledge students and parents are stakeholders. If we don’t do this, we fail the kids.
  • [NATIONAL: NEWS] STEM Boom? Not So Fast. With all the talk about dire shortages of qualified workers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields over the past five years, one would be forgiven for thinking STEM jobs are falling out of trees to anyone with training and ambition. Well, one would be wrong - depending on the specific field. As always, the devil is in the details as not all STEM fields are created equal.

    As shown below, those graduating in Life Sciences and Engineering face grim job markets, while those in Computer Sciences unsurprisingly are in high demand. So, before we spout the popular "STEM is supreme" talking point to schools and students, we must add the qualifier that, more and more, computer literacy is a crucial component to any career, STEM or otherwise.
Screenshot 2017-11-07 12.21.12.png

Albuquerque Public Schools Board Opening for South Valley/Downtown

As many of you likely know, there is a current opening for District 1 on the Albuquerque Public Schools Board. District 1 covers much of the South Valley/Downtown area (pdf map here) and includes 16 elementary schools, three middle schools, and three high schools. This is a critical opening on a board that oversees one of the largest school districts in the U.S., with more than 85,000 students and a budget over $1.3 billion.

We need strong candidates in the mix! Please think about and encourage anyone (even if it's yourself) in District 1 with a vested interest in Albuquerque education and who possesses an unwavering commitment to the success of our city and students. It is vital we have policy makers who are focused on the future well-being of our beloved city, have a new vision of what's possible in education, and who center their work on the best interests of students above all else.

The stark reality is that only 34% of APS students are reading at grade level, with only 20% performing at grade level in math. More alarmingly, Hispanic students like myself trail the district average by 6%. APS's economically disadvantaged students (also like myself growing up) fare even worse: lagging by 8% in reading (26% proficient) and 9% in math (11% proficient). The need for a board member committed to preparing every student, regardless of zip code, to reach their full potential is paramount, urgent, and personal. 

APS recently issued a brand new Academic Master Plan. This plan has good bones but needs a strong board to ensure the district's mission that "All Albuquerque Public Schools Students Will Attend High-Quality Schools Responsive to Their Communities" is delivered upon. Please consider this opportunity to serve Albuquerque's students, parents, and families. Our kids need you/us! 

The qualification requirements are that the person appointed must be:

  • at least 18 years of age
  • a registered voter in New Mexico
  • a resident of the Board of Education District 1
  • not a convicted felon
  • not an employee of Albuquerque Public Schools

Anyone interested in applying for the board seat and meets the qualifications listed above must submit the following information to the Board of Education Services Office no later than Thursday, November 2, 2017, 5 p.m. (Please note that this is the deadline for receipt of the materials):

Some important dates for which applicants must be available are (full timeline here):

  • October 24, 2017 – Informational meeting for interested applicants at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, Library at 6:00 p.m.
  • November 2, 2017, 5:00 p.m. – Applicant letters of intent, questionnaires and resumes that include references and contact information must be received in the Board of Education Services Office
  • November 9, 2017 – Facilitated community forum at Rio Grande High School, Performing Arts Center (Time in the evening to be confirmed). The format of the meeting depends on the number of applicants and will be predetermined and communicated to candidates in the confirmation letter to each applicant
  • November 13, 2017 – Applicant interviews with the APS Board of Education in the morning and early afternoon in the John Milne Board Room at the Alice and Bruce King Educational Complex, 6400 Uptown Blvd NE.  (Time will be confirmed after number of applicants is known)
  • November 15, 2017, 5 p.m. – Swearing in ceremony at the Regular Board of Education meeting

Lastly, please direct questions and documents to:

Board of Education Services Office, 100E
Albuquerque Public Schools
Alice and Bruce King Educational Complex
2017 Board of Education Applications
P.O. Box 25704
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87125-0704

Phone: (505) 880-3731 or (505) 880-3729
Fax: (505) 880-2572 (Please confirm fax receipt at (505) 880-3737)
Physical address for hand-delivered documents: 6400 Uptown Blvd. NE, Suite 100E, Albuquerque, NM87110