This time of year is an opportunity for reflection on the past and hope for the future. There is a confluence of events that can mean a real change for public schools: the court decision for sufficient funding, with a particular focus on Latino and Native American students, students with disabilities and students in poverty who have been historically underserved; a new governor who is committed to supporting rather than vilifying schools and educators; a Legislature which includes knowledgeable educator legislators and is looking at policies that actually support students; and a budget that could begin addressing insufficient funding.
While the shortage of educators has had a horrible impact on students and schools this year, the mobilizing of the unions and education community, and the commitment of the governor and the Legislature for a change in the teacher evaluation system and, hopefully, the first real raise in 10 years, should stop the bleeding of educators and encourage people to return to APS and the profession.
Additionally, the district, the Teachers Federation, University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College are collaborating on programs to bring new teachers into the profession and raise the professional level of all involved. We must change the narrative for those brilliant, talented, energetic young people so that once again they see teaching as a wonderful and real possibility.
For the first time since I have been on the board, we are looking at the budget with hope. There are critical needs that we have struggled to meet. Amazing staff across the district strive to make schools work for children, but it has taken a toll and is not sustainable when class sizes are large, and the need for counselors, social workers and other supports grows. As we enter into the new year, the district will be engaging the community in conversation about priorities for the budget.
Unfortunately, there have been events that are incredibly painful, as well. The uncertainty and fear faced by immigrant families have a horrendous impact on many of the children in our schools.
After a teacher at Cibola High School cut the hair of a Navajo student and called another a “bloody Indian,” the community mobilized to passionately condemn that incident and to share many painful stories by students who have felt disrespected, and who do not see themselves or their community and history reflected in our schools. There are two parts to addressing this incident.
First, regards a specific teacher. That is the responsibility of the administration. There must be due process and adherence to state personnel statute. This is not an arbitrary obstacle or an attempt to be secretive. It is critical and a right of all. Despite rumors, the teacher was removed from the classroom as soon as the administration was aware of what had happened, and never returned. The teacher is no longer employed by APS.
Second, and clearly the responsibility of the board, is setting policy, priorities and the tone of the district. To some, we may seem negligent in not speaking out sooner or more forcibly, but I have learned the absolute need to know facts, to not simply react – to be thoughtful about what will have lasting impact in changing a situation.
We have made a commitment to Ethnic Studies, to restorative justice and to ending the “discipline” practices that penalize most severely, most devastatingly, students, especially boys, of color. (For these reforms) to be implemented well, educators must lead side by side with the community and the administration. How do educators have time to deepen their knowledge of their students’ cultures, communities and history? How is pedagogy, not just curriculum, developed and changed? How do we restore school-based communities in which students feel safe, with trusted adults to whom they can turn when they feel unsafe or disrespected? I can say the district is working on it. There is great urgency.
In short, there are some great things going on. There are at least as many challenges. I am hopeful that the new year will be a good one!