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Support must maintain academic accountability

The first legislative session of 2019 began with new state leadership at every level. This session promises to bring forth a variety of ideas, challenges and changes. A variety of educational bills has been introduced in the new Legislature that proposes to increase education spending by millions, redesign our accountability systems and develop support programs for our students.

This is a real opportunity for fresh ideas to support our students and empower our educators. Will New Mexico take advantage of this opportunity for growth with an eye on our students and their future?

I recently visited a community school in New Mexico and was amazed by the positive culture and the various supports available to students. If a student was in need of health care, clothing, food items or emotional support, the school served as a resource to meet the needs. After the tour I only had one question: “Why aren’t we talking about their academics?” Many students at this school did not begin high school on grade level. I was left wondering about intervention programs, tutoring and incentives for high-quality teachers.

I believe we MUST ensure our children have their basic needs met. A child cannot fully commit to the expectations of the classroom if he or she is hungry or cold. However, if we provide a child a meal or give them a jacket, it will enhance their day, but will it change their life? I don’t want to choose between providing basic needs and social/emotional support or a rigorous education. We must provide both at the same time.

As a student at Chisum Elementary School, I had very little. One day I was called to the principal’s office and given a coat. It was a long pink jacket with a yellow zipper and blue buttons. I didn’t understand what I did to be so “lucky” to be given the coat. The jacket kept me warm all winter. But it wasn’t this coat that allowed me to break the cycle of poverty in my family. It was my education. I continued my education after high school and became the first in my family to graduate from college. I didn’t get a job; I started a career.

As legislators debate new educational dollars, accountability systems and support programs, I call upon our state leaders to not lower the standards for our students, our teachers or our schools. We can do great things together. Rather than debating the high bar we have set to ensure we help our children break the cycle of poverty, let us debate the ways to meet the bar.

We must understand and meet the basic and social/emotional needs of our students at not just at a few schools throughout our state, but in the many districts that need this additional support. And until New Mexico ranks at the top of education, where we belong, let’s ensure that we have the accountability systems to both measure effectiveness and provide support for our teachers. The true measure of success will be once that child, whom we have educated for the majority of his or her life, is able to be successful at a career or college. If they later have a family who requires the same basic needs and support services as they did in school, we have failed them. Let’s empower them to break the cycle of poverty. Let’s make sure to support their social, emotional and educational needs, all at the same time.

Hope Morales was a teacher on special assignment at Military Heights Elementary School in Roswell and is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.