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SF superintendent predicts a ‘breakthrough’ year

SANTA FE – Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia, who likes to wear hats, says she’ll eat one if her school district doesn’t have a “breakthrough year” this school year.

“I can feel it in my bones,” she said at her annual State of the Schools address at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

Garcia said the Santa Fe schools have been building a foundation for improvement by getting teachers up to speed on “standards-based instruction,” aligning curriculum among teachers and from grade to grade and with professional development programs for educators.

“I’m convinced that this is our breakthrough year,” she said, “because of the foundational work that has been done, and really focusing on the early years in Pre-K and kindergarten and first grade, making sure that children have those foundational skills so that they can be reading and writing by third grade.

“Because if kids are reading by third grade, they’re going be more likely to be able to read to learn in fourth grade and beyond. Kids who are reading in the third grade are more likely to graduate from high school.”

She did hedge her pledge somewhat saying someone would have to make her an edible hat if necessary. “This is going to be our breakthrough year, or I’ll eat my edible hat,” she said.

Before that, Garcia went through Santa Fe’s student proficiency scores as measured on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests.

Santa Fe’s scores in math and language skills are low and below those of most other big New Mexico school districts. But they have being moving up and Garcia described them as are “fairly comparable” to the other districts.

“No one is happy with those kinds of results,” she said as she showed the rates for math — only 17.6 percent Santa Fe students are considered proficient. The state average is only 21.6 percent.

She said Santa Fe schools also are investigating broader ways to assess how students are doing at becoming well-rounded people. “While PARCC is important, our kids are more than just one score,” she said.

Garcia was hired back as Santa Fe superintendent in 2016, after holding the position from 1999-2002. She was the state secretary of education from 2003-2010 under Gov. Bill Richardson.

Garcia said the dip in Santa Fe’s graduation rate, which dropped from a high of 71.3 in 2016 to 68.9 in 2017, was expected because district leaders “tightened up” an online class credits program. The district wants to make sure we “graduate kids who are ready,” she said.

On another topic, Garcia said she believes that 2019 will be the year that teachers in New Mexico see a big pay increase. She said “the economic environment” has changed — an apparent reference to a huge boost to state coffers from oil and gas revenue — and there should be a goal to reach a starting teacher salary of “not $36,000 but more like $45,000 or $50,000.”

“It’s not pie in the sky, folks,” she said. “Those number are truly being talked about.”