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Future for schools causing ‘a lot of anxiety’


About 100 members of the community of Los Padillas Elementary School gathered to work on a plan to reorganize the school on Thursday. Under the state ESSA plan, Los Padillas and other low-performing schools must make significant changes. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque Public Schools will redesign three low-performing elementary schools targeted for intervention by the state Public Education Department – and district administrators are seeking public input on the final plans.

In December, APS sent letters to PED selecting the reorganization option for Los Padillas, Whittier and Hawthorne elementary schools, rather than more drastic measures, such as closure or relaunching as a charter school.

Each school has received five or six consecutive F grades, the worst performance in the state, landing them on the PED’s list for “more rigorous interventions” (MRI).

Dulce Elementary, near the Colorado border, is also classified as MRI for earning five F’s.

The MRI schools were required to choose from turnaround options outlined in the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan by Jan. 9, and they must submit detailed plans for PED’s approval by Feb. 12.

Gabriella Blakey, APS associate superintendent for the southeast section of the district, including Whittier and Hawthorne, said the district sees an opportunity to scrutinize what is working well and what could be improved at its three MRI schools.

Interpreter Sergio Albonico talks with some of the parents about different suggestions put forward as they gathered on Thursday to work on a plan to reorganize Los Padillas Elementary School. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Parents, students and community leaders have already been part of the conversation, and Blakey said administrators are still accepting feedback.

On Thursday night, roughly 100 people packed Los Padillas Elementary’s gymnasium to share their aspirations for the school. Similar meetings took place at Whittier and Hawthorne elementary schools in December.

The forums included facilitated small group discussions of school assets and needs, which were written in marker on large pieces of butcher paper.

At Los Padillas, participants cited the school’s nearly 130-year history, strong South Valley community ties and caring teachers.

Jerry McCann, a 70-year-old grandfather, wrote that Los Padillas is “the life of my whole family for four generations.”

His wife, three children and eight grandchildren all attended the school.

“I have my roots here,” McCann told the Journal. “Taking care of the school is one of my goals.”

McCann said he worries that the tests PED uses to calculate school grades don’t truly reflect what children are learning in the classroom and proposed that families be allowed to review the exams.

Other suggestions included offering a full-time nurse, family liaison and more bilingual education options.

APS will review the feedback and come up with new approaches that will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.

Under the state ESSA plan, low-performing schools that opt for redesign must make significant changes. Options could include longer school days or new recruitment efforts to attract top-rated teachers. The district could also offer additional wrap-around services like health clinics or food banks.

PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski told the Journal that he will look for plans that dramatically transform the schools “in every way.”

“If we are going to put the kids first, and if we are going to keep the kids front and center in these conversations, then I think we have to be honest with ourselves and say our kids deserve to be in schools that are earning A’s and B’s every year regardless of their ZIP code,” he said. “That is going to mean challenging old paradigms, challenging the traditional status quo, looking at arcane policies that have been in place for decades and suspending them or throwing them out.”

Blakey told the Journal that staff at the three schools are feeling “a lot of anxiety” about the future.

“Not only do teachers care about the school, but it’s also their livelihood,” she added.

Teachers unions and some APS board members have criticized PED’s approach to low-performing schools, calling it “blaming and shaming” that does not adequately consider systemic issues like poverty.

At Thursday’s community forum, Democratic Rep. G. Andrés Romero, a Los Padillas graduate, said he doesn’t think PED is good at listening to the community.

“I was born and raised in this community,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of pride, just like many of you, in this school and its community.”


Los Padillas Elementary School asked community members to write their thoughts during a public meeting on the school’s future on Thursday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)