Despite numerous entreaties from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to postpone some of the educational reforms affecting teacher evaluations, a top official of the state’s Public Education Department on Thursday said the agency has no intention of changing course.
Speaking before the Legislative Education Study Committee, Leighann Lenti, the PED’s deputy secretary for policy and programs, stated emphatically, “As we’ve said all along, we will not be delaying implementation.”
Her comments came during a discussion of school principals’ role in the newly implemented evaluation process, which has raised alarm among teachers and school district officials statewide. The biggest complaint is not that the evaluation system is being upgraded, but that the changes are being foisted on the state’s education community too quickly.
Many of the lawmakers joined the chorus of PED detractors, saying such dramatic change requires time and careful planning. But Gov. Susana Martinez and her secretary-designate for the PED, Hanna Skandera, have insisted that New Mexico children need the change right away, as evidenced by their consistently low rankings in national achievement lists.
Committee Chair John Sapien, a Democratic senator from Corrales, said he has many concerns about the pace of implementing the program. Describing himself as a businessman who has mapped out training programs, he said, “a rubric is only as effective as the person using the rubric.” The word “rubric” had just been used repeatedly by PED officials to describe the NMTeach program aimed at increasing principals’ effectiveness as classroom observers and evaluators of teachers.
“We hear from principals and superintendents all over the state,” Sapien said, “… ‘Give us more time.'”
He said the legislators agree there is an emergency situation in education in New Mexico but that he hasn’t heard from a single school district that said it was ready for the evaluation program. “And so there’s a lot of fear out there,” he added.
Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, told Lenti that she and other PED officials are not listening to teachers or school boards.
To another PED official, Matt Montaño, she said she was “flabbergasted” that he hadn’t heard calls to delay the new program for a year. She also noted that the Portales Municipal Schools’ Board of Education recently adopted a resolution strongly calling for more planning and funding for the program before it is put into place. The resolution was forwarded to Stewart, who chairs the House Education Committee, on Wednesday by Portales Superintendent Johnnie Cain. In his letter, Cain decried the “almost frantic implementation of the Teacher Effectiveness Evaluation system.”
In discussing the role principals play in evaluating teachers, Linda Paul, director of the New Mexico School Leadership Institute, said, “all roads right now go through the principals.” She described them as “school managers” and said the NMTeach program requires them to “get more involved in instructional leadership. Currently, NMTeach provides principals with 24 hours of training, but much more is needed, Paul said.
Rep. Rick Miera, D-Albuquerque, the committee vice chair, questioned the availability of more time. “How do we make more than 40 hours a week or 24 hours a day? How do you make that happen?”