As news broke of the selection of Dr. Ryan Stewart as New Mexico’s next Secretary of Education, it was striking that AFT-NM dropped the dime via email nearly half an hour before NMPED made a public announcement. While sharing embargoed information ahead of deadline is frowned upon, it’s telling that this administration works more through union leadership than teachers or the media.
Described as a “nonprofit executive from Philadelphia” , Dr. Stewart comes to Santa Fe after 21 months as the Regional Executive Director of Partners in School Innovation. In an interview for the Harvard Ed L.D. program, he shared: “My work with these brilliant and dedicated teachers proved to me beyond a doubt that high student achievement, even in the face of daunting economic, organizational, and social obstacles, is not unattainable, nor are the obstacles facing schools and teachers intractable. The success that my colleagues and mentees achieved provided me a window into what is possible when the behavioral patterns, systemic dysfunctions, and entrenched ideologies that impede progress are faced with a creative, solutions-oriented mindset and a shared vision about teaching and learning.“ At Harvard his dissertation was titled “Increasing the Equity, Transparency, and Strategic Alignment of School Budgets: Weighted Student Funding in The School District of Philadelphia.”
In a research paper for the New Teacher Center, where he spent five years, we learn of “… Stewart’s work to use the state tests to help inform subject matter teaching. Working as a member of a district-wide team, Stewart and colleagues from the same grade and subject area worked to align their day-to-day instruction with the state assessments. They examined the California Standards Test for Math in detail, found 82 specific sub-skills and built annual lesson plans around these.”
We also discover this tidbit, which is scrubbed from all other sources I can identify: “Immediately following college, he joined Teach for America and spent three years teaching eighth grade algebra and physical science at Cesar Chavez Middle School in East Palo Alto, California.” Ryan, like myself, came to teaching and Education via Teach For America. Governor Lujan, like her predecessor and for all her rhetoric, has hired an out-of-state, reform-minded, Teach For America alumnus to be New Mexico’s Secretary-Designate of Education.
I find this is a positive sign. Dr. Stewart, like Secretary-Designate Ruszkowski, brings classroom, nonprofit, and district experience to NMPED. He understands our children are more than their life circumstances and that teachers are more than inept union and district leadership. As someone who’s been highly skeptical of the sloppy management of NMPED under this administration, I find it promising that Dr. Stewart’s former boss, William Hite, is a member of Chiefs for Change, a national organization of reform-minded education executives. Secretaries Skandera and Ruszkowski were both members as well.
So, will Dr. Stewart sit idly by and let the nation’s top-rated ESSA plan be unraveled without a solid, student-minded alternative in place? Will he be able to withstand the undue influence of teacher union leadership at the expense of parents and students? Time will tell, but I’m hopeful. And, if he doesn’t, we’ll be here to tell the truth; nothing disinfects like sunshine.
Best of luck Dr. Stewart, we’re counting on you to do right by ALL constituents, not just those with unearned mouthpieces and cushy salaries they’ve been collecting for 20+ years.