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$5,000 stipend angers educators

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While no Santa Fe Public Schools teachers have applied, the president of the local teachers’ union and some school board members are in a huff over the New Mexico Public Education Department’s plan to offer a $5,000 extra stipend for teachers who transfer from higher performing schools to lower performing ones.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, National Education Association-Santa Fe President Bernice García Baca complained that the program was another example of PED labeling teachers and schools as “good” and “bad.”

“We’re doing the best anybody can,” said García Baca, a counselor at Aspen Community School, which received a D under the state’s A-F school grading system. “And to look at the teachers at my school, to look at my principal, to look at anybody at any of these schools that have a lower grade, and to think we are inferior is disgusting to me. It makes me so angry I can’t even express it.”

The plan was announced late last month by Gov. Susana Martinez. Two types of $5,000 stipends were offered – one for teachers who agree to move from an A- or B-ranked school to a D- or F-ranked one for a two-year period, and one for teachers who increase the proportion of their students passing Advanced Placement tests.

“Our teachers who take on the biggest challenges and deliver results for our students deserve to be rewarded,” Martinez said in announcing the programs. “We need those teachers who are successful to share their practices in our struggling schools so that we can spread success across our state.”

Teachers at schools that earned As or Bs in Santa Fe were invited to apply for the stipends by Sept. 17, but none did.

Ten Santa Fe schools received As or Bs when 2013 grades were announced in July, while 14 got Ds or Fs.

Teachers statewide have until Monday to submit applications to PED for the 100 stipends that will be awarded after a review process.

School grades were established by statute in 2011, replacing measures of “adequate yearly progress” that were used to assess schools under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The grades have been controversial, with critics contending the formula used to calculate them is too complex, relies too much on a single test administered to students, and doesn’t accurately reflect the performance of schools.

SFPS officials have been among the critics.

“No one in this room has confidence in PED and the grading system,” said School Board Vice President Steven Carrillo, after García Baca made her comments. “No one believes that teachers at these D and F schools are no better or worse than any other teachers in our district. It’s unfortunate that all of this comes down from above and we have to be reactive.”

Carrillo said that people have to be careful about the use of words and labels.

“When we start using language in a certain way really, really often, it becomes damaging,” he said.

Like García Baca, School Board President Linda Trujillo took offense to PED’s incentive program.

“I also think it’s an insult. It’s a huge insult,” she said.

Trujillo suggested it might be a better idea for PED to award stipends to teachers who choose to stay at schools that received a D or an F.

School board member Glenn Wikle said he couldn’t understand why PED was offering the program now, just a few weeks into the school year.

“That means some students have bonded and established a relationship, and then you take that teacher away from them? I don’t know where (PED) is coming from,” he said.

A PED spokesperson said a total of $2 million was appropriated for the two stipends in the budget bill approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor this year.

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