Today, the Journal announces its endorsements for the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, which will undergo a major transformation, regardless of who is elected. Four of the seven seats are open and no incumbent is seeking reelection.
This is an important election as the state’s largest school district faces multiple challenges in determining how best to educate our children.
The four candidates the Journal Editorial Board is supporting stress accountability and measurable ways of improving student performance. All have children either currently or recently in APS or a public charter school. One is using her experiences as a classroom teacher at a national nonprofit that works directly with districts to improve education. One has taught preschool for more than two decades. One is on the APS Education Foundation board and has served multiple stints as a PTA president. And one is a local businessman who wants answers on where APS spends the hundreds of millions of dollars taxpayers give it, because he doesn’t see it in the classrooms.
DISTRICT 3 – DANIELLE GONZALES
Gonzales is a native New Mexican, a graduate of Cochiti and Chaparral elementaries, John Adams Middle and Valley High, and an admitted overachiever who watched a close relative struggle with addiction, criminal behavior and dropping out. It’s what shaped her dedication to ensuring every student gets the supports and education they deserve, what led her to get her master’s degree in education, teach on the border (fourth grade) and ultimately work with a national nonprofit, the Aspen Institute Education & Society Program, that helps large urban districts improve.
Gonzales has four children ages 5-12 in public charter schools. She supports high-quality charters, as well as community schools, a whole-child approach that goes beyond test scores and addresses students’ social and emotional needs, world-class academics and a strategy to implement them, an intentional approach to educator supports, and transparency and accountability in oversight of district dealings. And she has experience managing a seven-figure budget and nine-figure grants.
“I’ve seen how it can be done better,” she says. “I work every day with urban districts to improve; I have a deep understanding and technical expertise. I’m shocked at what I see” in APS, while districts such as Chicago, D.C., Boston and Denver have all improved. “We can improve, too, (and making that happen) is my day job.”
DISTRICT 5 – CRYSTAL TAPIA-ROMERO
Tapia-Romero is another proud APS graduate – of Chaparral and S.R. Marmon elementaries, John Adams Middle and West Mesa High. In addition to her business administration and child development degrees, she’s on the governor’s Early Learning Advisory Council, is policy chair of the New Mexico Child Care & Education Association and has 21 years’ experience as an early childhood educator, founding the New Mexico Early Learning Academy. Her children also graduated from APS.
Tapia-Romero says APS is administrator-heavy, does a poor job tracking student improvement and does not have parents’ trust. She says it needs to be responsible for every line in its $1.8 billion budget and “get outcomes” for students by building relationships, understanding one size does not fit all, and “getting trade, certificate and dual-credit word out.”
“It’s not a money issue,” she says. “It’s how we’re handling it.” Tapia-Romero is well-situated to say, “As a parent, educator and life-long resident of Albuquerque, I am concerned about the direction and leadership of Albuquerque Public Schools. For far too long, our children and their education have suffered under bureaucracy and substandard education; if that wasn’t clear prior to the pandemic, it really should be glaring right now. Our children can’t wait any longer. I believe APS needs new leadership, and that we can and should expect more for our students. It’s time to step up and demand more.”
DISTRICT 6 – ART CARRASCO
Carrasco was unhappy with the lack of in-person learning for his children, ages 7 and 9, that dragged on over the pandemic. When the investigation into now-former APS administrator/state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton broke, it was the green light to take time away from work and family to try and help right the APS ship.
Even after meeting with the district’s chief financial officer, Carrasco says only 25% of his questions were answered – still MIA are what to do about a $45 million deficit, why $5 million is missing in the most recent audit, what properties the district owns, where 5,190 students went and where $360 million in federal money will go.
He wants a more definitive plan and is concerned that “we’re used to last place.”
Carrasco says he has decades of experience going over business financials and his priorities start with seeing the district’s general ledger to determine “where the money is going.” Other priorities are improving the graduation rate by motivating students and ensuring academic improvement. Carrasco questions why APS has “750-plus job openings and no plan for recruiting or raising wages.”
Carrasco supports high-quality charters as “an awesome piece of the puzzle” and healthy competition; outlets of sports, art and music to motivate students; zero tolerance for violence; and an emphasis on trades and vocational education so there are options for careers and college. His motto: “educate, motivate, graduate.”
DISTRICT 7 – COURTNEY JACKSON
Jackson is also an APS graduate, of La Cueva High, and the parent of two APS students. With a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry and a Juris Doctorate from UNM Law School, she has worked in the pharmaceutical industry. As a stay-at-home mom, she has been “very involved” in her daughters’ schools, serving on the APS Education Foundation and twice as a PTA president.
Jackson says, “There is a very good reason not a single incumbent is seeking reelection; even they acknowledge it is time for change at APS. For too long, the interests of students have come second to the interests of adults. The board has failed to prioritize student progress, but rather accepted the status quo. That must change.” She says she would work to elevate parents’ voices in the decision-making process. She would demand strategic spending that targets “real, measurable” goals, including literacy and accountability for everything from IRS discrepancies to broken school air conditioners. She would emphasize getting the hundreds of millions of dollars the board receives “to students (rather than) bureaucracy.”
Other priorities are to value teachers by trimming that bureaucracy and driving more money to salaries and supplies, expanding opportunities for students by replicating successful charter school strategies and establishing a strategic plan that holds the superintendent accountable for student improvements year after year. She says APS has not had “measurable goals for at least 12 years; we need a goal to know where we’re going.”
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.