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Editorial: Swift closure, suit won’t help Hawthorne kids

Hawthorne Elementary School’s academic record is, without question, abysmal.

The Albuquerque school earned six consecutive years of Fs on its school report card. And on the recent Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test, fewer than 10 percent of Hawthorne’s students tested were proficient in reading. Only about 14 percent were proficient in math. While this is actually an improvement, this record of failure is unacceptable and cannot continue.

To that end, the state Public Education Department has identified Hawthorne as one of three Albuquerque schools in need of “more rigorous intervention.”

Albuquerque Public Schools submitted similar improvement plans for all three schools, and ultimately PED accepted two of those plans. It did not accept the plan for Hawthorne. Instead, Hawthorne was required by PED to “champion and provide choice.” That means the school must make sure parents are informed of higher-performing schools in the area and help transfer students, if that’s what parents want.

The contract also says Hawthorne will close at the end of the current school year if its 2017-2018 school grade is an F – and those school grades are scheduled for release later this month. APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy has volleyed back, saying Hawthorne is crucial to the community and the stability of students, and she will not agree to sign a plan that includes possible closure. She warns that a legal battle could be forthcoming if PED tries to implement closure. PED has indicated it will wait until the 2017-2018 school grades to come out before deciding the next step.

Both APS and PED say they have tried to collaborate on plans for improving the school, and both blame the other for serious lapses in any collaboration.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation is not helping, passing out fliers in May with the message, “Our school is not failing. The NM Public Education Department is failing us.” Whether the teachers’ union wants to admit it or not, Hawthorne is failing, and burying one’s head in the sand isn’t going to change that fact.

Many challenges

That said, Reedy and other APS officials are right to point out that Hawthorne is facing difficult challenges in addition to poverty, including:

⋄  Student mobility rates as high as 70 percent.

⋄  The school is between Copper and Central avenues, an area of the city with a high crime and homicide rate.

⋄  Hawthorne is 44 percent English language learners, and many students start kindergarten at a much lower level than at other APS kindergartens.

These are serious challenges, yes. But they cannot and should not be used as excuses for allowing this school – and its kids – to flounder as it has. To address these challenges, APS officials told Journal editors last week, Hawthorne this school year has implemented a number of impressive, research-based changes – some of which were recommended by PED:

⋄  Hawthorne added an additional hour and a half to the school day. The school year is also 10 days longer.

⋄  The school has new leadership, and many new teachers.

⋄  Teachers are paid for a full eight-hour workday to cover the extra hour and a half they teach and time for collaboration and prep.

⋄  The campus has been renovated, and district officials are promising increased communication.

These are ambitious reforms, and it’s too bad they weren’t implemented sooner.

PED must hold schools accountable

It is ironic that APS is arguing that PED doesn’t have the authority to close Hawthorne, while praising a landmark ruling by Judge Sarah Singleton that, while ordering the state to provide more funding to its public school system, also stressed PED must embrace its oversight role and hold schools and school districts accountable.

That includes taking over the control and management of a school or district when necessary. As a matter of policy, PED should have the right to shutter a failing school. That said, given that our state will have a new governor in January, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski to insist on school closure if he will be unable to carry through with that sanction. And it doesn’t make sense to decide now to shutter the school before these reforms – even if they are way past due – have a chance to work.

But a costly lawsuit by APS against PED wouldn’t benefit these students either – and as we pointed out, a new governor could make all this moot.

The bottom line here is that Hawthorne students deserve better than what they’ve seen in the past. Reforms, finally, are in place that could truly make a difference. If these reforms fail to deliver significant academic growth, then the school should be shuttered and these students transferred to schools with a better track record.

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.