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OP-ED: SFPS must commit to an honest, open process

Let’s not talk about closing schools. Let’s talk about improving education for all kids and providing better options for Santa Fe Public Schools’ families.

Some of my fellow SFPS Board members may disagree and push for quick decisions. I believe this is a flawed strategy, and that we need to slow down and be extremely thoughtful, and as innovative as possible, in evolving public schools for our children.

The SFPS Board will be talking about this at the October 15 meeting. We need to have this conversation and, critically, we need to commit to a community process that is open, honest, considered and strategic in order to find good solutions for our district’s future.

I will propose creating a community task force to lead this work, dig in and recommend solutions. The task force should gather and consider facts, engage the community with an inclusive process that hears diverse voices and craft innovative solutions for a strong public school future.

This will give us the chance to address some of the key, structural issues facing our district. These include:

• Some big schools are overcrowded and smaller, less crowded, schools often have high numbers of students transferring in. This system favors families who can afford the time and cost of driving kids across town to school.

• Our declining enrollment translates to fewer kids in school every year, which means less money comes to SFPS from the state.

• We have many aging buildings needing repairs and improvements; plus, we need to prepare for an infrastructure bond cycle in two years that won’t be able to fund everything.

Right now, we are seeing increased state funding for education, which reduces some of the pressure on us. Current leaders in the district, and the state, are willing to embrace savvy and creative solutions.

Most of all, our community has many common goals for schools. Starting with our common ground, let’s commit to doing this hard work and shaping a better school district for Santa Fe.

Our goals should include:

• More and better options for families to choose from at a variety of schools (like science and art magnet schools, neighborhood schools, robust athletic programs).

• Greater equity and access to opportunities for all students.

• Stronger academics across all subjects, including embracing multicultural and dual-language foundations.

Our solutions should also include weighing community values like:

• Recognizing the importance of well-supported professionals and school culture.

• Reducing bullying and isolation to increase safety, and lift up kindness and mindful behavior.

• Integrating community support with wraparound services to better serve working parents and overall community health; this means identifying barriers to access (like transportation) that we can overcome.

We could potentially do this work in six months and be ready for an initial phase of implementation through the budget to be adopted in the spring of 2020. However, if the process needs more time, even a year or more, that is perfectly all right. We will collectively benefit from the most intentional, unhurried community process we can create.

Let’s all consider our biases and seek to understand the perspectives we do not easily see. As a community, we will be more successful when we build trust in each other and work together for the greater good.

I hope that, in the future, because of the course we chart now, more and more families will see SFPS as the best choice for their children’s education. I ask for your support, your participation, your patience and your effort to do this right. Let’s commit to this journey, and see where an open and authentic process can take us.

Kate Noble is president of the Santa Fe school board.