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SFPS superintendent: District is ‘on a positive trajectory’

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia says the school grades for the 2016-17 academic year released by the state Public Education Department on Tuesday show the school district is making progress.

“Overall, I hope people recognize we’re improving,” she said, adding that more schools than last year within the district earned either an A or a B and fewer received a D or F. “We’re on a positive trajectory. We’re starting to get traction.”

PED also gives out grades for each district, but those haven’t been released yet.

In all, 11 Santa Fe schools got either an A or a B, up from seven a year ago. The number of schools receiving a D or an F dropped from 17 to 14. “But that’s 14 too many,” Garcia said.

All four Santa Fe schools receiving an A – Acequia Madre, Carlos Gilbert, Piñon and Wood Gromley elementary schools – also were awarded an A last year. But that’s one less than last year as the Academy for Technology and the Classics dropped from an A to a B.

Also, more schools (seven, including all three middle schools) received an F this year than did last year (five). That translates to 23 percent of schools within the district receiving failing grades and 13 percent receiving A’s, which is below the state average.

Statewide, 16 percent of schools are failing, up from 13 percent in 2016. The number of A’s held steady at 14 percent.

PED has shifted the grading criteria over the years to weigh academic proficiency more heavily – bumping it up from 15 percent in 2015 to 25 percent today. In 2019, proficiency will make up 33 percent of the grade.

Garcia said it was the “College and Career Readiness” section of the grading formula that improved scores at Santa Fe high schools. Capital High went from a D to a C, while Santa Fe High improved two grades from an F to a C.

Other schools jumping two letter grades were Amy Biehl Community School, Chaparral Elementary and Mandela International Magnet School, each going from a D to a B. Other schools receiving a B were Atalaya and Sweeney elementary schools, and El Dorado Community School.

Garcia said school officials are still analyzing the data, but she found it “perplexing” that Sweeney and Ramirez-Thomas elementary schools had such different grades because their student proficiency scores are similar. While both schools received a C last year, Sweeney earned a B and Ramirez-Thomas received a D in the latest report. “So it doesn’t reflect the hard work I think both schools are doing,” she said.

One thing that stood out, she said, was that nearly every elementary, middle and K-8 school got an A on the “Opportunity to Learn” section of the report card, which factors in attendance, and student and parent surveys intended to measure whether classroom teaching is meeting expectations.

Acting Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski

Acting PED Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said there’s a “growing disparity” at the statewide level and continued to single out Albuquerque Public Schools as having an “aversion to quantitative measurement” of student performance.

He compared APS’ attitude to a doctor who won’t take a child’s temperature or measure blood pressure because the process is too uncomfortable. Successful districts such as Gadsden and Farmington are data-driven and take the view that every child can learn, Ruszkowski said. “Demographics is not destiny in Gadsden,” he added.

Garcia, who began her second stint as superintendent in Santa Fe a little more than a year ago, said SFPS is “very data-driven” and makes assessments based on the data. She said district officials will study the data used to compute the school grades, and then develop a road map for improvement for principals and teachers to follow. Professional development efforts will also be geared toward needs, she said.

After district officials crunch the numbers, a presentation will be made to the school board at its Sept. 5 meeting.

Gov. Susana Martinez chimed in on school grades by saying that schools with strong participation in state reform programs are on the rise, “while those that refuse to make improvements for our kids continue to struggle.”

Garcia said SFPS applies for funding for some of the state programs, but the district hasn’t always received it. “I think it depends on the number of applications they receive and the funding is limited,” she said.

Charles Goodmacher, NEA-New Mexico spokesman, was critical of the grading system.

“It is a disservice to New Mexico’s students, parents and educators to rely so heavily on inadequate measures of school quality,” he said in a statement. “Parents and the community should know the grades assigned to their local school are more of a reflection on a particular set of policy wonk ideas which reduce the many intangibles of education to a single letter score, than it is about what is actually happening in their schools.”

Garcia said it’s no use complaining about the system. “We have to work within the system we have. Whether you think it’s the best system or not, that’s the system we have,” she said. She added that it won’t be long before there’s a new governor in office, who may change the system again.

In December, Garcia introduced “Project North Star.” The idea is not to worry too much about school grades and proficiency scores. Instead, she said, “We’re focused on sound teaching and learning practices, and bringing the joy of learning back into the classroom. That’s where the action is: in the classroom.”

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