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Touring excellence

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What the New Mexico Public Education Department wants to achieve on its Excellence in Teaching statewide tour is simple.

PED secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski wants to celebrate teachers who are excelling at their jobs and he wants other teachers and schools to learn from them.

And while he says teachers and schools get the celebration aspect, there’s room to improve the latter.

Ruszkowski pointed to Mission Achievement and Success, a state-authorized charter school in Albuquerque, as an example.

Christopher Ruszkowski, New Mexico PED secretary-designate, stands in a line of students waiting to greet their teacher Emily vanDyck, a 6th-grade math teacher at Mission Achievement and Success (MAS) charter school before class, Tuesday, during his “Excellence in Teaching Tour”. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

He visited the school as part of the tour Tuesday morning to observe and applaud the sixth grade math class of Emily vanDyck, who received top marks on her teacher evaluation.

“It’s always an honor to have (Ruszkowski) come to the classroom,” said vanDyck, who is from Albuquerque.

Ruszkowski noted, “She is truly a master in her craft.”

MAS as a whole is no stranger to top marks too, having received three A school grades in the past three years.

However, Ruszkowski isn’t seeing something he wants to at the school: other educators visiting.

According to PED data, 34 percent of Albuquerque’s schools received an F in 2017’s state report. In 2016, 25 percent of Albuquerque schools received failing grades.

Statewide 115,899 students attend D and F schools, according to the data released last year.

Ruszkowski says a way to help these low-graded schools is to point out models that are working and to encourage communication between schools and even across districts.

That’s where the Excellence in Teaching — a tour that kicked off in late February — comes in, aiming to highlight and congratulate examples of teachers across the state who are achieving strong strides in student growth.

MAS was the first Albuquerque stop and Albuquerque Public Schools-chartered La Resolana Leadership Academy is also scheduled for a visit.

He said MAS and vanDyck, along with other teachers and schools on the tour, could offer success stories, advice to other schools and serve as models to replicate.

“(VanDyck) uses so many core techniques: positive reinforcement, constantly checking on students, proximity, efficiency,” he said.

While the secretary-designate says he is “starting to see a breakthrough,” communication among schools and teachers still isn’t happening as much as he would like.

JoAnn Mitchell

MAS principal and founder JoAnn Mitchell says it takes a full team to get the results her school has seen.

Mitchell, who is from New York, said she developed the model for her school after traveling around the country to visit high-performing schools with similar demographics that also serve a high percentage of low-income and minority students like MAS.

The first generation high school and college graduate told the Journal that the school’s model includes incorporating coaches, who work with primarily reading and math teachers like vanDyck, for continuous, direct feedback and training.

“It’s a great feeling and opportunity to be able to showcase great teachers,” Mitchell said about Ruszkowski’s visit.

The teacher evaluation system and school grades, tools used by PED to measure excellence, are both controversial in New Mexico. Some teachers say the teacher evaluations are too subjective and rely too much on test scores, which opposers also say is a one-size-fits-all approach that may not be the best measurement for all schools.