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Teacher-mentorship effort hailed

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

GALLUP – One of New Mexico’s top education executives said Thursday that a new mentorship program for teachers at low-performing schools is helping improve student achievement.

In a presentation to the Legislative Finance Committee, Debbie Rael, a deputy secretary for the Public Education Department, shared data showing that schools in the Teachers Pursuing Excellence program are outperforming other schools in the state.

The eight initial schools in the program had below-average rates of student proficiency in math and English-language arts at the outset of the program, according to her presentation. But over the past two years, the proficiency rates have climbed several percentage points above the average for New Mexico schools that aren’t participating.

“We know we’re closing the achievement gap in these schools,” Rael said.

In the 2017 school year, for example, 27 percent of students at Teachers Pursuing Excellence schools were proficient in math, compared with 20 percent for schools outside the program, according to Rael’s numbers.

The program pairs high-performing teachers with educators who are struggling, based on a controversial state rating system that factors in student test scores and classroom observations. There’s a similar program for principals.

Discussion of the teacher mentoring program – started by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration in 2015 – came as New Mexico lawmakers questioned top executives in the Public Education Department about efforts to help Native American students.

American Indian students show the lowest proficiency rates on reading, math and science tests in New Mexico, according to a report prepared by nonpartisan legislative analysts.

Some lawmakers expressed frustration about whether enough is being done to help Native students.

“There’s no part of the state that cares more about education than tribal communities,” said Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Gallup Democrat and chairwoman of the Legislative Finance Committee.

Rael, New Mexico’s deputy secretary for school transformation, highlighted Teachers Pursuing Excellence as a new program with promising results at closing the achievement gap among different demographic groups.

She told lawmakers that struggling teachers work with a mentor to learn strategies they can deploy in the classroom.

The state spends about $1.5 million a year to provide stipends, usually to every teacher at a participating school.

Matt Montaño, deputy secretary of teaching and learning, told lawmakers that the state is also trying to recruit more Native Americans into teaching careers. There’s “growing evidence,” he said, that having Native teachers helps Native students.

Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, said teacher salaries are a constant source of complaint.

“If we’re going to recruit good people,” Trujillo said, “we’re going to have to pay better.”

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