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A year of challenges, opportunities

The year 2020 was full of challenges. Rather than curse the darkness and light a candle, the Santa Fe Public Schools (SFPS) lit a bonfire of opportunity and optimism. With the leadership of our committed and student-focused Board of Education, we adopted a can-do attitude, reinventing learning as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Joining us were amazing governmental partners, volunteer organizations and district volunteers.

Teachers, school site staff, counselors, nurses, custodians, nutrition workers, principals and assistant principals have done phenomenal work keeping students engaged and progressing. The heart of our work is at the school sites, and district leadership and staff are committed to ensuring that we support teaching and learning every day.

We all share in the district’s accomplishments, including being one of the first to stand up a remote learning program when the pandemic hit, then refining this effort. With broad community feedback, remote learning today is remarkably different. We remain deeply committed to a continuous improvement process, making adjustments along the way.

Equity has been addressed in very real ways, from launching the new Help U Homework Hotline to delivering 600 hotspots and figuring out other free internet options for our families, to delivering food to our communities, to addressing homelessness, to bringing unaccounted students back to school.

Though 547 students were originally missing or disenrolled, all but seven have been found. We will not rest until we find every student. Most of these students have left for home schooling, private schools or other communities. We miss them and invite them back.

Our buildings are ready! They are properly ventilated and marked for proper distancing. Plexiglass barriers have been installed and personal protective equipment is broadly available. Notably, there was no transmission of COVID during our voluntary hybrid program in the fall.

Bringing students back to school safely is our top priority. Many students have struggled with social interaction, frustrations with the internet and social-emotional issues. Nothing takes the place of being in school.

Despite it all, SFPS remains a flagship district.

In 2020, we prioritized the most essential functions. The new Equity, Diversity and Engagement Department was created with existing resources and the Indian education program was elevated to a department with a director, giving it heightened status.

The district’s graduation rate is 78%, exceeding the state’s average rate of 75%. As we reach for 100%, we want graduates to have grit, be civic-minded, show persistence, and be kind and compassionate.

PiƱon Elementary School was named a prestigious National Blue Ribbon School for its exemplary efforts to close the achievement gap.

SFPS was awarded the 2020 Community Leadership Award for Digital Equity from the Consortium for School Networking, made possible by voter support of financing for educational technology.

SFPS received $2.1 million from New Mexico Highlands University to ensure that students are college and career ready, and $2.7 million from the New Mexico Public Education Department to build early literacy.

A Capital High School team just won the 2020 Congressional App Challenge for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.

We want to remain on pace, but funding is a concern. We began this school year with an $8.2 million deficit, cutting positions, contract services, professional development, etc., though not in schools. We anticipate a $7.6 million budget loss for next year due to declining enrollment, continued loss of funds for small schools, increases to insurance, and fixed costs and other funding impacts.

Our voice joins others who are urging the Legislature to hold school districts harmless next year, thus protecting them from the financial impact of this year’s enrollment decline.

As we stand on the cusp of 2021, rest assured that our bonfire glows brightly.

Veronica Garcia is superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools.


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