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PED makes decisions on struggling APS schools

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s a long road ahead for Albuquerque Public Schools’ lowest-performing schools.

But a clearer picture has been laid out for the schools’ futures now that the Public Education Department has decided on plans intended to lift them out of failing status. PED has conditionally approved plans to restructure and redesign two of the schools assessed as needing “more rigorous interventions,” or MRIs, while choosing a different route for the third.

Last month, APS submitted plans to turn around Los Padillas, Whittier and Hawthorne elementaries after the district’s initial proposals were denied. The three schools have received “F” school grades for either five or six consecutive years.

On Friday, PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski sent letters to APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy outlining the agency’s decisions and expectations for all three schools.

Los Padillas and Whittier have been approved to move forward with plans to overhaul the schools, but if the district agrees to the conditions, PED plans to keep a close eye on the schools with site visits, required progress reports and tracking of development.

The district has until May 4 to respond on behalf of Los Padillas and Whittier.

PED laid out eight areas of focus for the two schools for implementing the reforms and has requested more clarity on parts of the proposals.

PED’s conditions emphasized that all teachers at the schools must have a multi-year track record of being rated highly effective or exemplary, per the state’s evaluation system, by the start of the next school year.

The conditions also stipulate that if students don’t show a certain amount of progress by benchmark dates, the principal and assistant principal will be removed. APS already replaced all three principals at the schools earlier this year.

And, ultimately, the district zone associate superintendent can be removed if the students don’t show enough progress.

Other conditions concerned curriculum, teacher instruction, assessments and other data with which the schools will have to move forward.

But closure is still on the table for Whittier and Los Padillas.

An F grade this school year and next will mean closure by the PED for the schools during the 2019-2020 school year, according to the letters. Or a combination of D and F grades by either school over the next three school years would result in closure in the 2021-22 school year.

The schools must also transition out of MRI status.

While the official MRI exit criteria won’t be finalized until June, the letter did say the schools are required to have grades of C or better three years in a row to move out of the MRI designation.

School grades for this year are expected to be made public in July.

Reedy sent memos to the Whittier and Los Padillas communities about the decisions.

“We are carefully reviewing these conditions to determine if they are feasible and in the best interest of our students, teachers, staff and families,” she wrote to both schools.

She went on to say that it’s her hope to work with PED and Ruszkowski to implement the redesign plans, while also reflecting the community’s wishes for the schools.

For Hawthorne, the department denied its restructure and redesign proposals.

Instead, Hawthorne will be required to “champion and provide choice” — in which the school outlines all existing schooling options for parents, makes sure they know of higher-performing schools their children may attend in the area and helps transfer students, if needed.

“The district shall match students from this school to higher-performing schools based on student and family preferences, and must provide transportation to any student who selects another school within APS,” PED wrote in its letter.

APS has to submit its execution plans and cost projections for Hawthorne to PED by May 11.

Hawthorne will also be required to host four “school choice expos” that present families with information on attending other schools. Parents may choose Hawthorne for their children.

For now, Hawthorne will stay open, but it may close at the end of the 2020-21 school year, unless the school can get at least three consecutive C grades.

Ruszkowski told the Journal that PED selected the “champion and provide choice” option for Hawthorne because the agency had less confidence in that school’s ability to execute its restructuring plans.

And proximity to other schools was also a key factor in PED’s decision. PED wrote in the letter that 10 higher-performing schools are within five miles of Hawthorne.

Reedy also sent a letter to the Hawthorne community saying in part, “We still believe that the plan we submitted, which was developed with input from teachers, staff and families like yours, best reflects the passion, dedication and commitment we have for this school.”

In the Dulce Public Schools, a proposal for restructuring Dulce Elementary School was also rejected, and the district will have to resubmit plans again. The deadline is May 7.

“The resubmitted plan relies on contingencies, excuses and work-arounds in order to avoid a clear commitment to addressing the educational needs of your students,” PED’s letter said. “This is unacceptable for our students who are in dire need of immediate change, and uncovers systemic operational and academic failures within the district.”

The APS and Dulce districts had four options when informed of their schools that had received MRI designations: close the school, restart as a charter school, “champion and provide choice” or restructure and redesign.

Both APS and Dulce had offered restructure and redesign proposals for all four schools identified as needing “more rigorous interventions,” the most critical status.

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