Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said she believes the state education department is retaliating against her – and her district – after she spoke out against it.
Garcia says the Public Education Department is disparaging her district’s school grades because of her public support for a judge’s blistering, landmark decision that New Mexico is violating the constitutional rights of “at-risk” students – a lawsuit for which she was a lead witness. And she has also spoken out against PED’s decision to appeal the ruling.
Garcia criticized Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski’s comments when he announced school grades last week. Ruszkowski said at the time Santa Fe is the “most concerning” among the state’s largest school districts and highlighted 56 percent of Santa Fe’s schools received either a D or F grade.
Garcia said this is a first.
“I have never seen a secretary single out a school district in this manner,” she said, calling it an abuse of Ruszkowski’s authority.
Garcia, who herself served as state education secretary from 2003 to 2010, pointed to a PARCC proficiency report from last month – before the lawsuit ruling – where PED said Santa Fe was “starting to show meaningful academic progress.”
She said that directly contradicts last week’s comments by Ruszkowski that Santa Fe was a “district in crisis,” emphasizing she feels his comments were a result of her stance on the court ruling.
“It’s too much of a coincidence that earlier in July we are making ‘meaningful academic progress’ and then I make those comments, school grades come out and I’m a ‘district in crisis,’ ” she told the Journal.
When the lawsuit ruling was announced, Garcia had said the case was about basic classroom needs and stressed schools weren’t asking for “bells and whistles.”
Ruszkowski sent a statement to the Journal, but didn’t directly address Garcia’s accusations.
“The leadership of Santa Fe Public Schools should be asking themselves why the Gadsden Independent School District – which has about the same number of students and schools and a higher percentages of students from low-income backgrounds – is earning better School Grades than SFPS,” he wrote.
Garcia told the Journal that she believes Gadsden has had more consistent funding from PED, adding Santa Fe has received “sporadic” funding for PED programs such as Principals Pursuing Excellence and ultimately feels the state department should still address her concerns.
“My issue is not with other schools beating the odds,” she said. “I feel like they are creating a straw-man argument and not addressing the real issue: that we were singled out.”
Garcia also said Ruszkowski hadn’t communicated his concern to her before talking to the press about it.
“I didn’t receive a letter. I didn’t receive a phone call that this was coming,” she said. “I was totally shocked when I saw Santa Fe Public Schools targeted in (PED’s) press release.” But she hoped he would have “meaningful dialogue” with her going forward.
SFPS board president Steven Carrillo also took offense to Ruszkowski singling out Garcia when talking to the media.
“To attack Dr. Garcia in that way, given the stature of his office, I think was wholly inappropriate,” he said.
Carrillo also said he felt school grades should emphasize proficiency scores more.
Garcia said PED’s “unfair and irresponsible” comments have been disruptive to the staff and principals, adding it has affected the community, too. She said she is sending parents a letter addressing his comments.
PED said in its statement Monday after Garcia’s comments that school grades are primarily measuring student growth and not solely proficiency, which is what the PARCC report did. The department’s statement said school grades showed “Santa Fe is really struggling at growing all children, even while making some important gains in students reading and doing math on grade-level.”
Garcia said she doesn’t even feel school grades are an accurate measure of how a school is doing and SFPS will continue to focus on other measures, including proficiency, truancy and graduation rates.
But she said she does agree with Ruszkowski on the proficiency report. “We are moving in the right direction and making meaningful progress in academic achievement,” she told the Journal.
SFPS had 48 percent D and F schools in 2017 and 56 percent this year.
Journal staff writer T.S. Last contributed to this report.