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NM can remake a better K-12 system

The second law of thermodynamics assures us that entropy always increases over time. At its core, entropy simply means “things fall apart.” Sometimes, in the physical world, it takes more energy to fight entropy than to benefit from it.

I thought of entropy as the world seemed to fall apart during the COVID-19 pandemic and as it now tries to pull itself back together to a sense of normalcy.

The question I’ve heard many times from my team at the Public Education Department and from educators across New Mexico is this: Should we put the pieces back as they were – or should we aspire to build something even greater?

When it comes to education, I believe we can do much better than simply returning to a system that didn’t consistently and equitably value individual and cultural identity and left a majority of our students struggling both academically and emotionally for far too long.

We’re already heading down that path. The New Mexico Academic Roadmap released in March advocates for new strategies in accelerated learning, equity and social, emotional and behavioral health supports. The current legislative session secured more fuel for the governor’s moonshot, with funding for education now increased by over 25% during the current administration.

Now, perhaps, we should consider going further.

For example, we learned over the last year that some students thrive in self-paced, personalized learning environments. It is our job to push for our state to be innovative as we return to a new normal and build a system that gives students options that fit their individual needs, including small-group interventions for students who need us the most – a staple of the state’s response to the pandemic.

The moment is ripe. The State Equalization Guarantee – the formula used to divide state funding among districts – is getting another healthy increase in the budget, and federal funds are flowing to school districts to address the increased costs from the pandemic. That means millions upon millions of dollars for New Mexico communities to invest as they see fit in extended learning opportunities, after-school and summer enrichment, and innovative endeavors to improve the educational ecosystem.

Additionally, the Legislature this year continued its investments in community schools, broadband connectivity and cybersecurity support, career technical education, teacher training and residency programs, national board certification scholarships, tribal libraries and Native language programs – not to mention $30 million to get Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Family Income Index off the ground to fight the effects of concentrated poverty in our schools.

Everything, it seems, points to an incredible post-pandemic opportunity to remake education to better serve our children. I believe it is essential for educational leaders across the state to take advantage of this opportunity and provide the leadership needed to make meaningful changes in the educational ecosystem in New Mexico. The state’s leadership and the PED team stand ready to remake something brilliant out of chaos.

We have the resources, the will and the energy to do it. Let’s seize this moment.

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