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Editorial: APS students, teachers deserve real turnaround

For years, adults have gone to their respective corners when it comes to debating what should happen at New Mexico’s struggling schools. Those representing the state’s largest school district and those representing the New Mexico Department of Public Education each insist they have the best interests of the students at heart but have been at odds over how to accomplish that.

In the latest skirmish, a Friday deadline looms for Albuquerque Public Schools to fully commit to state-approved turnaround plans for Los Padillas and Whittier elementaries or lose control of those schools. It is time to put aside adult differences and truly focus on what those 738 elementary students not only need, but deserve.

It’s time to sign on the dotted line and move forward.

At Los Padillas, there are 280 students. Less than 23 percent can read at grade level, less than 10 percent can do grade-level mathematics. At Whittier, there are 458 students, and less than 21 percent can read at grade level and less than 3 percent can do grade-level mathematics.

If they remain this far behind, how does anyone think they will do in middle or high school, if they stay enrolled?

This is where the conversation can turn to how difficult it is to teach kids who are English Language Learners, of poverty, of at-risk family situations, and that’s the wrong direction. At Animas Elementary in Farmington, 47 percent of students can read at grade level and 28 percent can do grade-level math. At Gil Sanchez Elementary in Belen, 41 percent can read at grade level and 32 percent can do grade-level math. These schools serve students dealing with the same challenges, and they are ensuring more are ready for the next step academically and in their lives.

Don’t Los Padillas and Whittier kids deserve that, too?

Despite what the APS critics would have you believe (these schools are lost causes) or what the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, APD Board member David Peercy and Sen. Mimi Stewart would have you believe (the measurements are flawed, NMPED is overstepping) – these schools deserve the chance to rise beyond everyone’s expectations.

Because these youngest of students deserve to learn the joy of reading and the mystery of mathematics. They should be given the tools to unlock an amazing story or how long it takes to get to where a loved one lives. Other N.M. schools are proving their counterparts can.

Along those same lines, the teachers at these schools deserve the same supports and access to quality training their colleagues in other districts are receiving. They, too, should have the tools they need to help young minds absorb all the wonders in elementary school classrooms.

At what point do the adults concerned with education in New Mexico come out of their fighters’ stances and truly focus on the students they should be serving?

APS and NMPED have gone back and forth trying to negotiate turnaround plans for Los Padillas and Whittier, finding compromises on teacher ratings and principal contracts. To take the route Peercy says is in his back pocket and reject plans months in the making in favor of suing might serve some adults’ interests. But another legal battle won’t help 738 kids or their teachers, who deserve better.

PED has agreed to APS’ strongest concerns. But now APS has inserted a caveat allowing it to change or drop out of the plan if “needed,” meaning if it becomes too hard. Then why have the plan at all?

Some community leaders – who seem unfazed by the status quo – have spoken out against PED’s plans. It’s time for Albuquerque civic and business leaders who have studied and supported education reform to also speak up – and encourage APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy and her team to put students first and adopt these plans.

APS’ decision is due Friday. Let’s hope it’s for the kids.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.