ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a renewed effort to communicate with the rank and file of New Mexico’s educators, the state’s education czar held an unprecedented give-and-take this week with Albuquerque school principals, a meeting she described Wednesday as a “sea change in communication.”
Hanna Skandera, the secretary-designate of the state’s Public Education Department, also predicted a battle in the Legislature next year, when the administration again pushes for merit-based pay for teachers.
Skandera addressed both issues Wednesday at a well-attended Albuquerque Economic Forum breakfast, where she also explained and defended the state’s new teacher evaluation system.
In sharp contrast to a recent public forum in which the new evaluation system and other reforms were lambasted by scores of teachers from Albuquerque Public Schools, Wednesday’s meeting was cordial, even friendly.
Previous teacher evaluations were based on a pass/fail system that did not recognize superlative teachers any more than it zeroed in on teachers who might be struggling, Skandera said. That needed to change, she said, and the new system ranks teacher performance on a scale of 1 to 5, recognizing brilliant teachers as well as those who need help.
But the recognition of great teachers should go beyond mere words, she said. A beginning teacher generally is paid $30,000 a year, and merit pay remains a novel concept in education.
“It’s a shame,” she said. “Teachers deserve more.”
Noting that last year the governor pushed – unsuccessfully – for the Legislature to pass an $11 million merit pay package, she said a similar proposal would be “coming back this year.” She expects a wide-open fight. That tidbit of information was a “sneak preview” of the PED’s legislative program, she told the Journal at the close of Wednesday’s meeting.
Skandera opened her remarks by citing a few encouraging statistics:
- The state’s graduation rate increased from 63 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2012.
- Hispanic, Native American and African-American students led the way in that increase.
- Tenth- and 11th-graders improved a key math score by 21 percent in a single year.
- The state’s third-graders raised an important statewide test score by 3 percent in a year – after plummeting 9 percent in the prior three years.
The secretary-designate singled out APS board President Marty Esquivel for arranging her meeting with principals and vice principals at Albuquerque High School. The auditorium was packed, and the meeting was marked by good questions and real dialogue, she said, adding, “It was an awesome exchange.”