Editorial: APS right-sizing puts district in position to succeed this school year - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: APS right-sizing puts district in position to succeed this school year

Superintendent Scott Elder appeared downright peppy Thursday, welcoming students back to school. The second-year leader of Albuquerque Public Schools has cause to be chipper and optimistic.

Elementary, middle and high school teacher vacancies at APS are down in the double digits, quite an improvement from this time last year when there were around 200 vacant positions for teachers.

As of last week, APS had 94 open positions for elementary, middle school and high school teachers (the district has 200 schools including charters). The district needs special education teachers as usual, and long-term substitute teachers will plug the teacher vacancies. Still, the state’s largest school district appears to be in a better position heading into this school year.

“We’re looking pretty good; I’m excited,” APS Human Resources Chief Todd Torgerson said of the district’s staff vacancy rate. “Normally, our vacancy rate is significantly higher than we are now.”

The district cut more than 200 positions after Legislative Finance Committee analysts said in April APS had hundreds more teachers and staff than it should after losing 5,500 students in a year. Teachers have been moved around and students consolidated into larger classes in a right-sizing we know wasn’t easy. Thanks to all involved for their patience – this had to be done in light of declining enrollment and budget cuts.

Masks

Students and staff throughout New Mexico will not start the school year under mask and social distancing mandates, allowing them to better communicate and interact. Gone, at least for now, are sporting events that required panting players to wear face coverings.

Secretary of Education Kurt Steinhaus says school districts will be able to make more decisions of their own related to the pandemic.

Elder called the lack of a mask mandate “fabulous.” It’s a decision that will affect 71,000 students at APS. However, the district is on standby should the pandemic surge again: Students will still need to report positive tests of COVID-19 and schools will continue their “test-to-stay” programs, meaning anyone who’s been exposed to the virus will need to test negative and not show any symptoms in order to keep coming to school. Enhanced COVID-safe practices such as outdoor learning and lunchtime and limiting who can visit schools could return if schools reach certain positivity rates.

Steinhaus says school boards may implement mask requirements on their own if infection rates climb quickly. “That’s their choice,” he said. “That’s what this is all about: safety for the kids and the staff.”

Extended learning

Extended learning began last week for some thanks to the dedication and commitment of teachers.

State lawmakers in 2019 expanded the data-driven K-3 Plus program into the K-5 Plus program, extending the school year by 25 days at participating elementary schools. Lawmakers also fully funded the program so every New Mexico public school student is eligible. (Lawmakers also created the Extended Learning Time program, adding 10 instructional days per school year to middle and high schools that applied.)

Twenty-nine of APS’ 88 non-charter elementary schools will have extended academic calendars this school year – here’s to them sharing their results and getting more campuses on board.

Tax holiday

A tax holiday this weekend offers parents and students significant savings through midnight tonight. Qualifying back-to-school items like backpacks, shoes and clothing are tax-free. Eligible supplies include clothing and shoes priced at $100 or less, school and classroom supplies that are less than $30 each, computers up to $1,000 and computer hardware up to $500.

And there’s also help getting students supplies, including the LIBRE Institute’s free K-12 backpack-filled-with supplies event from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Casa Del Rey at 2500 Corona Drive NW.

Normalcy

APS officials say the district is in a better place than it has been in some time heading into the new school year. Schools will be back to “normal” in-person learning for the first time since the pandemic hit in March 2020.

The challenge will be translating that return to normalcy into measurable classroom improvements at APS and across other school districts in the state. And we’ve nowhere to go but up based on state rankings.

Security

There are also real concerns for the safety of students and staff after tragic school shootings, including two fatal shootings on or near Albuquerque schools last school year. Officials seized 10 firearms students had brought to eight different APS campuses. APS has since made significant security upgrades on campuses, and a school resource officer will be at every school this year.

APS begins its traditional school year Wednesday. Hats off to all school employees who persevered through the pandemic and are staying in the profession that’s central to communities across New Mexico.

Back-to-school is always an exciting time for students and school staff. After two-and-a-half years of pandemic-related restrictions and uncertainty, this year’s normalcy promises to be something special.

Be prepared

Home » Opinion » Editorials » Editorial: APS right-sizing puts district in position to succeed this school year


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