Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Winston Brooks is actively seeking a monetary prize he considers the pinnacle of grants available to schools, but one APS board member has expressed strong opposition to trying for the award.
At issue is the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education, established in 2002 and named for billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, a founder of the house-building company, KB Home, and the Fortune 500 insurance giant, SunAmerica.
“Whoop-de-do,” wrote board Vice President Kathy Korte in an email to her colleagues a week ago in response to an email Brooks sent about the prize. Korte’s email made it clear she disagrees with the superintendent’s enthusiasm for the prize.
The Broad Prize is the largest education award in the country for urban school districts. It honors, annually, districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps between low-income students and students of color on the one hand, and, on the other, wealthier white students.
Recent emails between the president of the school board and the panel’s vice president show just how deep the divide and how acrimonious the conversation have become over school reform.
Korte, an outspoken critic in the ongoing debate in New Mexico over education reform, says Broad is a behind-the-scenes leader of what she sees as a corporate takeover of the nation’s public schools. For that reason, she opposes efforts to bring the prize to the Duke City.
“I have been doing a ton of research on all these reforms,” her email said. “The Broad Foundation is a major culprit in the corporate takeover of public schools. It is the ultimate Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.”
School Board President Marty Esquivel is as strong a supporter of the Broad Prize as Brooks is.
“I think it would be a phenomenal award for the district,” he said Monday. “We’ve been shooting for it for four or five years – with a high degree of motivation. I know and Winston (Brooks) knows how important that award is for the district.”
Esquivel responded to Korte’s email with his own: “With all due respect, I find the ‘whoop-de-do’ to be a little counterproductive and undermining. I’ve known Winston (Brooks) to be very genuine and enthusiastic about his desire to obtain the Broad Prize for APS. … It is a very prestigious award and I find nothing nefarious or corrupt about the organization. It saddens me that you think otherwise and would write an email with such huge ramifications.”
On Monday, Esquivel said he would have no further comment on the matter.
Brooks declined to comment on the back-and-forth emails. He did say he believes APS has a fairly good shot at winning the award.
“In my view,” he said, “it’s the Academy Award for urban school districts. I support the Broad Prize 110 percent.”
Esquivel’s message to Korte went on: “I think what makes your email harmful is the adversity and embarrassment it could bring us. I think discretion is the better part of valor when you send an email like this. It would be terribly unfortunate for the Broad Foundation to see an APS Board member speaking about it in this manner. It would be even more embarrassing to win the award, then have to explain your email to them. I’d think if the District deems it a worthy goal, then it’s not acceptable to crater an attempt the Administration believes has merit.”
A clearly angered Korte shot back: “I don’t work for YOU, and I don’t work for APS, and I don’t work for (the New Mexico Public Education Department). I work for the tons of people I encounter on a daily basis: from grocery stores, to the malls, to restaurants and the hallways and break rooms where I work. … They are parents, teachers and board members, by the way.
“At election time, I’ll face the music and be ready for whatever voters decide. … These are the people who are beleaguered and suffering under this PED regime and it is these people I work for.”
Her email continues: “I don’t remember when this board gave you explicit directions as to how to direct Supt. Brooks to deal with the PED and legislative leaders. I don’t remember when we all endorsed the idea that PED can do what it wants because what it is doing is the ‘law of the state.’ I don’t remember when we all endorsed the idea that the governor can do what she wants because of her ‘executive power.’ …”
“Just because the governor and the PED are doing these things under rule of law doesn’t make them right,” added Korte, who provided the emails at the Journal‘s request.
Last month, Esquivel and a top-ranking APS administrator met with PED chief Hanna Skandera and Gov. Susana Martinez to try to smooth relations between the district and the state.
In his email to Korte, Esquivel told her the board respects her voice and her right to send a message. “However,” he wrote, “it strikes me that you feel your way is the right way and the route of ‘civil discourse’ over reform issues is the wrong way. While we’re elected officials and have to take the heat, you need to be mindful of the position this places Winston (Brooks) in and how undermining it can be toward the colleagues I know you respect.
“This might be a hard email for you to read and I hope you will reflect on it and take it in the constructive manner I’ve tried to convey it. But, as President, I think it needs to be said. You need to be more judicious in expressing your opinion for the sake of everyone.”
Korte’s reply was that Esquivel’s email wasn’t hard to read, but that it just made her angrier.
According to Korte, if APS were to win the Broad Prize, Brooks “would either assimilate to the Broad policy manual, or he would have to start looking for jobs elsewhere. And our kids would suffer. The Broad Prize is the ultimate Trojan horse.”
According to its official website, the Broad Prize has four goals:
- To reward districts that improve achievement levels of disadvantaged students.
- To restore the public’s confidence in public schools by highlighting successful urban districts.
- To create competition and provide incentives for districts to improve.
- To showcase the best practices of successful districts.