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School leaders question PED’s response to Yazzie

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The state has mandated “equity councils” as part of an effort to address a landmark court ruling that said the state violated some students’ constitutional right to a sufficient education. But school leaders are questioning whether they will be effective and voice concern about a new task they say will fall on overloaded staff.

The state Public Education Department is requiring charter schools and districts to create the councils as part of a four-part response plan to what’s known as the Yazzie-Martinez case. A judge found in 2018 that students considered “at risk” – English language learners, Native American students, students with disabilities and students from low-income families – weren’t getting appropriate schooling. Plaintiffs continue to argue that lawmakers and the state still haven’t done enough to remedy the findings.

PED Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff described the councils as “a way for communities to engage in the process of thinking of culturally and linguistically responsive education.”

They are expected to develop guidance for schools on how to make education culturally and linguistically appropriate, and to create equity plans and assess how they are serving at risk students, according to a memo from PED. The groups will also be part of reporting where at-risk funding is going.

Ray Griffin, head administrator of Santa Fe charter Turquoise Trail, calls the councils “another unfunded mandate.”

The councils may have up to 15 people. They will include community members, students and school personnel, and the student groups identified in the lawsuit must be represented.

Griffin said the council requirement is well-meaning, but he’d rather see efforts go toward staffing and funding.

“Let’s take these extra hours and tutor kids,” he said.

The councils’ work will eventually guide where resources should go to support students identified in the ruling, the memo says. Griffin argues schools can already identify where resources are needed.

“I can tell you where all our weaknesses are and shortages are. That’s what good administration is for. That’s what our board is for. We don’t need another council to tell us,” Griffin said.

Turquoise Trail has 14 members on its equity council. Eleven of them are staff, including Griffin.

“It’s absolutely volunteer,” he said, noting that there is no money to pay members of the council for their work.

Bobroff said it’s up to school districts and charter schools to decide whether members are reimbursed, but the PED won’t provide money for stipends.

“I think this is exactly what educational bureaucracies do, is to create committees and blue-ribbon panels and councils, instead of doing what we know works,” Griffin said.

In its most recent filing, the Yazzie plaintiffs specifically pointed to the equity councils and the PED’s four-part plan, saying they don’t address how educational gaps will be closed and is reminiscent of past efforts that haven’t borne fruit.

“We don’t need more councils. We need programs and services for our children,” Gail Evans, lead counsel for the Yazzie plaintiffs, told the Journal.

She called on the education department to do more by creating a statewide plan and putting money into programs proven to help at-risk students.

Bobroff said the response plan “will create an effective and equitable system” through in-depth analysis and continuous improvement.

That’s how Kimberlee Pena-Hanson, director of Gordon Bernell Charter School, sees it. She said the plan is aligned with strategies the charter is implementing, and she backs the councils.

Other school leaders worry about the burden on staff.

Jade Rivera, executive director of Albuquerque Collegiate Charter School, was skeptical of the councils, saying it’s an obligation that will likely have to be handled outside of school hours.

“It feels like a mandate that may or may not bring meaningful change,” Rivera said.

She also said time is short to launch the councils in earnest.

According to Bobroff, the PED distributed the first official notice about the councils Oct. 22. More details on the groups came a month later. The window for schools and districts to name members is Monday through Dec. 16. However, Bobroff told the Journal that PED is willing to work with schools that need more time.

Patsy Marquez, federal programs director of Bloomfield School District, doesn’t agree that the councils should be required of every district, contending the PED should have considered what each district already has in place to avoid either duplicate effort or seeking more commitments from stakeholders. Bloomfield’s equity council will be comprised of people on committees and through partnerships that are currently in place, according to the superintendent.

In Albuquerque Public Schools, the district had a districtwide equity task force and a community group in place before the PED requirement, according to associate superintendent Madelyn Serna Marmol. Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia also said she’s had an equity council for the last three years and will be using her existing cohort.

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