Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Joel Boyd did away with a prepared speech and notes when he gave his State of the Schools address Thursday at the state Capitol rotunda.
“I tend to go about this work from my heart. I tend to lead from my heart,” Boyd said when he met with reporters afterward. “While not as formalized, I thought it was more genuine.”
Boyd said his decision to do so was spontaneous and came to him while he was being introduced by Capital High School senior Blanca Ortiz.
Ortiz related her first encounter with Boyd about a year ago when he attended a dinner hosted by the SFPS Adelante program for disadvantaged youth. She said at first she was intimidated after learning about the new Harvard-educated superintendent who had just arrived from Philadelphia, but his down-to-earth manner quickly put her at ease.
To her surprise, Boyd showed up at her school the next day to continue their conversation from the night before. “He listened, and was an understanding person,” she said.
Boyd said he was humbled by the introduction and told about 135 people in attendance – most of them school district employees and community leaders – that when he met her, Ortiz was not on track to go to college. Since then, she earned a scholarship from the Simon Charitable Foundation that will help her pay for college. She said later she hopes to attend Georgetown University, perhaps to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney.
Boyd said there were many others like Ortiz enrolled in the public schools and outlined some of the things the district was doing to help them achieve their goals in a off-the-cuff speech that lasted less than 15 minutes.
Grabbing the microphone and stepping away from the lectern, Boyd talked about partnering with the city to create a world-class school system in a world-class city.
There is urgency to do this, he said, because, “Our children cannot wait, our schools cannot wait, our city cannot wait for improvement.”
The superintendent went on to talk about other partnerships that have been developed in his 16 months on the job. One of those was the creation of the Santa Fe Coalition for Early Learning, consisting of local businesses and organizations interested in combining resources to benefit Santa Fe students.
“Together, what we will do is pool resources to ensure every student has access to what they need,” he said.
Boyd also touched on secondary school reform efforts currently underway, cautioning that it is a process that will take several years. But some of those efforts are about to take flight, including the Transitional Education Program, designed to keep students in danger of dropping out in school, scheduled to open in January.
Family engagement has been another area of emphasis for SFPS. Boyd said the district has reached out to parents during this, a planning year for secondary school reform. “We have to invest and engage families and make sure what we provide is what they want,” he said.
He also mentioned a recent visit he made to Agua Fría Elementary School, where he saw Spanish-speaking parents learning English alongside their children in the duel language program.
Boyd didn’t directly refer to the current controversy over the teacher evaluation system being implemented by the state’s Public Education Department – statewide demonstrations against the system were held Wednesday – but he said that local teachers were taking up the charge of school reform. He added that efforts must be made to ensure that teachers be allowed to exercise creativity through teaching.
Boyd said what’s needed most in Santa Fe are resources. The state Legislature must increase funding for schools, he said. Teachers need to be paid a good wage for the work they do and need to have the resources in their classrooms to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed.
It takes money to make it all happen, and Boyd mentioned the recently announced news that SFPS is one of 31 finalists for U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top funding, drawing the biggest round of applause before the standing ovation he received at the end of his address.
Boyd finished by saying that it would take a community effort.
“We are on the path to excellence and we can’t do it without you,” he said.