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Hundreds attend rally to protest teacher evaluation program

Elizabeth Gutierrez, a teacher at Marie Hughes elementary with her children, Mia, 10, left and Marques, 8, cheer at a Stand4KidsNM and Citizens United for Real Education rally at Del Norte High School on Tuesday, October 22, 2013. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
Elizabeth Gutierrez, a teacher at Marie Hughes elementary with her children, Mia, 10, left and Marques, 8, cheer at a Stand4KidsNM and Citizens United for Real Education rally at Del Norte High School on Tuesday, October 22, 2013. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
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Hundreds of teachers, parents and students rallied on a Del Norte High School field Tuesday afternoon in a spirited protest of the state’s new teacher evaluation program and methods of testing students.

The demonstration was entirely peaceful. It opened with a moment of silence for Michael Landsberry, a middle school teacher who was killed Monday in Sparks, Nev., while trying to protect students from a classmate who had come to school with a gun.

Speaker after speaker — including Kathy Korte, vice president of Albuquerque Public Schools’ Board of Education — called on Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico’s education chief, Hanna Skandera, to back off from the evaluation system. Korte told the crowd that what the state is trying to impose on teachers and students is a “major malfunction.”

Many of the protesters came from outside Albuquerque. One, Alicia Valdez, a kindergarten teacher from Cochiti Elementary School, said she and two other teachers were there to protest the New Mexico Public Education Department’s emphasis on student testing.

The new evaluation system is “insane,” she said, adding that between it and the extra testing, “there’s not enough time to teach.”

Elizabeth Alvarado, a teacher at Albuquerque High School, said many of the tests students are required to take form the basis of teacher evaluations.

Several notable faces were in the crowd, including Attorney General Gary King and APS Superintendent Winston Brooks.

Some of the messages on placards were straight-forward: “Teachers make a difference,” “Less testing, more learning,” and “Please, give me back my time to teach.”

Rick Sleeter, a history teacher at Eldorado, told the audience that the rally sponsors, Stand4KidsNM, are introducing what he called a “fair and valid” evaluation system to take the place of the PED’s program.

“If you want something to grow,” he said, “You just don’t measure it.”

Several students also addressed the crowd. One, Nicholas Martinez, a senior at Early College Academy, said he and his classmates have but one month to prepare for end-of-course exams. He said he owes everything to his teachers, and, “I care more about my teachers than I care about myself at this moment.”

In the crowd of perhaps 600 or 700, one detractor tried to ask a question, but he was asked to leave by police, who were very much in attendance.

Larry Osborne said he wanted to ask the rally organizers, “Why are we sending kids out into the world who are failing?”

Outside the rally, he said, “Kids are failing; doesn’t that mean teachers are failing?”

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