Yazzie-Martinez council pushes to include ‘at risk’ voices in operations - Albuquerque Journal

Yazzie-Martinez council pushes to include ‘at risk’ voices in operations

Albuquerque Public Schools headquarters in Uptown. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuqeuerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico still has a way to go before the needs of “at risk” students are fully met.

But Albuquerque Public Schools officials say the district is making some progress on ensuring their voices are heard.

They updated the APS board on the input the relatively newly-formed Yazzie-Martinez council has had during an instruction and accountability meeting Wednesday evening.

APS developed the council in the 2019-2020 school year, after a decision was made in the ongoing Yazzie-Martinez consolidated lawsuit, according to an overview of the council. The council includes parents, some students and instructors, according to APS’ website. It aims to pave the way for systemic change in the district by providing research and advice on key issues.

At least half of the council must be made up of people who represent the communities of students identified in the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, officials said.

The council has had a hand in several APS projects, including its strategic framework, federal funding applications, assessing needs for Native American students, and coming into compliance with New Mexico’s Black Education and Crown acts from last year, officials said.

Work on some of those things has seen progress.

Earlier this week, the board discussed possible changes to APS policy for discipline and dress code. District officials cited legislation referred to as New Mexico’s iteration of the Crown Act, which prevents school districts from discriminating against students for hairstyles or headdresses based on race or culture.

Superintendent Scott Elder told the Journal that considering that new language in APS policies was part of “(creating) an environment where … all students feel comfortable and welcome.”

Spokeswoman Monica Armenta said APS has gathered feedback on dress code and discipline issues for around a year. The changes will go before the board for final approval next week.

During the coming semester, the council said it hopes to integrate its members into standing district committees and departments, including curriculum and instruction, special education, and the Indian Parent Committee.

Chief of Schools Yvonne Garcia said that was so the council can give “ongoing feedback, and not just when things get large.” She said the council also aims to bolster its numbers in the coming months, as it’s “struggled with membership” thus far.

Other district initiatives include distributing at-risk money from the state to schools. APS has anticipated it will receive over $75.5 million in at-risk funding during the coming fiscal year.

On Wednesday, the APS board also discussed the New Mexico Public Education Department’s draft action plan on the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit. Some board members expressed concern about the draft’s career-planning component, adding that more needed to be done to encourage a diverse array of students into college-bound tracks and vocational paths.

“Where I feel the plan falls really flat is really around the career education and career-planning piece. They just tell schools to do it – ‘just do it,'” said board president Yolanda Montoya-Cordova. “I don’t feel that there’s really a strong vision or cohesion around that whole concept.”

“I also think we need to police ourselves very carefully about who gets encouraged to do a non-college path, because history can very easily … repeat itself,” board member Josefina Domínguez added.

The PED’s draft plan was released last month. The department asked for written feedback from the public on the plan, and that window closes next Friday at 5 p.m.

In 2018, a judge found that the state had violated the constitutional rights of at-risk students to a sufficient education. Those include socioeconomically disadvantaged children, English learners, students with disabilities and students who are Native American.

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