Schools proved they can do it in a historic year - Albuquerque Journal

Schools proved they can do it in a historic year

This remarkable school year is over, but it will not be forgotten. The pandemic year began with our students and teachers fully remote from one another. It segued into a hybrid schedule of remote and in-person, and it ended with full in-person learning available in all districts for families that were ready to send their children back. This steady progress did not happen by accident but as a result of hard, evidence-based work.

Steering this ship through the pandemic storm proved to be the most complex and demanding experience the New Mexico Public Education Department and school staff have ever faced. Our PED team quickly trained thousands of educators in remote learning, distributed millions of units of PPE, and developed new school safety policies and protocols. Administrators learned about air filtration, surveillance testing and contact tracing. Teachers learned to juggle students online in pajamas with those in the classroom wearing masks. Families learned to shift quickly from one schedule to another – and to check that children had masks when they went out the door. Bus drivers learned to enforce alternate seating while navigating the streets. Janitors learned new deep-cleaning protocols. And all the while, cafeteria workers churned out millions of meals to feed children in school buildings and those still learning at home.

None of this was easy, but under the leadership of our governor and with support from the Department of Health and other state agencies, we guided our students safely through the worst global crisis in a century. Now, as we celebrate our 2021 graduates and enjoy much overdue summer rest, here are key takeaways from a year we will never forget:

• School cases decreased. As spring wore on, teachers and staff were vaccinated, and students adapted to safety protocols.

• Most schools stayed open. Following the implementation of the COVID-19 watchlist in November, only four of New Mexico’s 840 individual school sites had to close due to COVID-19, and only 40 closed voluntarily.

• We kept our educators safe. School staff were prioritized for the vaccine in March. To date, 59,687 New Mexicans who registered as educators have been fully vaccinated – a number that includes early childhood and post-secondary educators. Additionally, surveillance testing in schools produced a teacher positivity rate that averaged 0.16% since February.

• We kept our children safe. No serious student cases were reported after full reentry on April 5. That is also the date when children ages 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine. By mid-May, almost 24,000 16- to 18-year-olds had received at least one vaccine, including more than 5,500 who participated in Student Vaccination Week, which was May 3-8. On May 13, children 12 and older became eligible and, by mid-June, more nearly 27,000 in the 12-15 age group had received at least one shot.

• We kept our communities safe. The evidence is clear: Schools did not drive community spread. Our safety protocols, contact tracing and quarantine practices helped keep the school transmission rate at less than 0.5%.

Throughout April and into May, my deputies and I visited more than 30 schools to offer our help with any school reentry issues. We met with principals and classroom teachers. We sat with students in classrooms and cafeterias and watched them at recess. It was a highlight of my year to witness and share in the joy of educators and students reunited again after this turbulent year.

We look forward to a 2021-22 school year that will feel both substantially more normal and that will also build on the successful innovations we adopted to adjust to the pandemic. We will welcome over 100,000 students back to in-person learning and will have robust online learning options that did not exist previously. We will continue to remember and mourn those we lost, and we will support our students and staff who need a safe and caring school community now more than ever.

COVID-19 remains with us, and we must remain vigilant. But no matter what happens, New Mexico’s public schools have proved they have the experience and agility to meet students’ needs for both safety and academic progress.

Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » Schools proved they can do it in a historic year

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Fusion Theatre Company to present ‘The Seven’ short works ...
Fusion Theatre Company has announced the ... Fusion Theatre Company has announced the winners of "The Seven," its 17th annual short works festiva ...
Isotopes manager Lopez can toast to a career milestone
ABQnews Seeker
Veteran manager gets 1,000th career victory ... Veteran manager gets 1,000th career victory with the Isotopes on Sunday, days after getting loss 1,000 as well.
Track and field: Lobos send a dozen to NCAA ...
ABQnews Seeker
Twelve athletes from the New Mexico ... Twelve athletes from the New Mexico track and field team have made, in total, 15 qualifying marks for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field ...
UNM women's basketball adds Gonzaga to this season's schedule
ABQnews Seeker
UNM will take on powerhouse Gonzaga ... UNM will take on powerhouse Gonzaga in a pre-conference matchup this season in Spokane, Washington. It will be the opener of a home-and-home series ...
Pro golf's feud is over; Notah Begay III weighs ...
ABQnews Seeker
Begay, 50, checked his email to ... Begay, 50, checked his email to make sure it was real — "I actually thought, 'is it April Fools Day?'" — and sure enough, ...
Editorial: ABQ needs old school party-patrol tactics
From the Editorial Board: Albuquerque police ... From the Editorial Board: Albuquerque police consider a house party hot line and party patrol.
Michael J. Sheehan legacy: Archbishop took over in Santa ...
ABQnews Seeker
Archbishop Emeritus Michael J. Sheehan, who ... Archbishop Emeritus Michael J. Sheehan, who died earlier this week, took reins of Archdiocese of Santa Fe at crisis point and led for the ...
Nine in New Mexico and Texas accused of operating ...
ABQnews Seeker
Members of the ring allegedly picked ... Members of the ring allegedly picked up undocumented immigrants in Doña Ana County and El Paso County, Texas, and drove them north, often to ...
Editorial: Show NM public if oil ban near schools ...
From the Editorial Board: Land Commissioner ... From the Editorial Board: Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard needs to show science behind her oil and gas ban.