ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The way Hawthorne Elementary School Principal Judy Martin-Tafoya sees it, being a school labeled in need of “more rigorous intervention” by the state has actually been a privilege.
A privilege because the school has seen improvement as a result of the boosted investment and district funding at the school, the principal explained – referencing both facility upgrades and Hawthorne’s most recent school grade going from six previous F grades to a C in the 2017-18 school year.
Martin-Tafoya, along with other MRI principals and Albuquerque Public Schools leaders, presented in front of the Legislative Education Study Committee hosted at Hawthorne, giving a progress report on the MRI improvement plans.
And after hearing the district’s report, LESC discussed what statutory school improvement framework could and should look like moving forward.
Antonio Gonzales, zone two associate superintendent for leadership and learning, said the district has seen “much success” so far since the restructuring plans have been put into place.
Los Padillas Elementary School, which moved from an F to a C school grade, and Whittier Elementary School, which got a seventh F in a row, are also MRI schools.
Gonzales told the committee those schools took the Public Education Department-mandated improvement plans and tailored them to their individual community.
“Los Padillas took the plan … and made it very specific with great attention around their school,” he said, adding similar efforts are being done at Whittier and Hawthorne, which does not have a state-approved plan on file.
Gonzales also highlighted the professional development being done at the schools, reporting 25 teachers – 10 at Los Padillas, eight at Whittier and seven at Hawthorne – are now working toward getting their National Board Certification. And he outlined the changes each school has implemented.
APS was given kudos by LESC members for the work and progress at the MRI schools.
The months-long process between PED and APS to finalize the improvement plans at these schools has been a contentious back-and-forth resulting in litigation for Hawthorne’s plan and stipulations, including possible closure, imposed on the other schools.
PED’s authority on MRI schools, which the department has been exercising thus far, was also openly questioned by the district and analyzed by the LESC.
State Sen. Mimi Stewart, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairwoman of the LESC, said the committee is discussing how to craft a bill that would address improving schools.
At Wednesday’s meeting, analyst Tim Bedeaux recommended the LESC put together a school improvement framework into state law that would address some of the gray areas.
He recommended the framework include clear metrics for the identification of schools that require state support as that system isn’t currently in law.
Similarly, he suggested a framework should include an explicit exit criteria, adding PED had changed the exit criteria for the MRI schools several times throughout negotiations with the district.
He also recommended the Legislature develop a tiered support system for those schools identified by the state, as schools need varying levels of intervention and resources, and suggested the types of support, intervention and authority of PED to close a school be clearly outlined.