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APS Board president faces 2 challengers

The Feb. 3 election for Albuquerque Public Schools’ District 1 seat, which covers the South Valley neighborhoods, pits a career educator and one-term incumbent against two challengers who say they want to bring a fresh approach to the board.

The incumbent is APS Board President Analee Maestas, 63, who has worked in education for 44 years and is currently the executive director for La Promesa Early Learning Center, a dual-language charter school.

One of her challengers is Colt Balok, 21, a University of New Mexico student who said he would be a strong advocate for students if elected.

The other is Madelyn Jones, 74, a longtime owner of a local bridal shop, who would like to bring her business acumen to the board, she said.

Balok said he could be a strong advocate for students.

“I always felt when I was in high school that I wished there was a student on the board of education because students are the largest stakeholders of the organization,” said Balok, adding that he remembers what school was like more than the other candidates, and his experiences more closely mirror those of current students.

Balok said he would like to reduce student testing and would give a critical eye to the budget.

One new initiative he would like to propose is random drug testing for students who participate in extracurricular activities in order to curb drug use. As a high school student, Balok helped develop such a policy for Gallup-McKinley County Schools.

Jones said she decided to run because the board needs someone who is not a “professional educator.”

“I’m a businessperson, and when businesspeople have a problem and we do not have an answer to the problem, we go out of business,” she said.

In addition to bringing a business sensibility to the board, Jones said increasing parent outreach and engagement would be a primary goal for her. She said she is also alarmed by how many schools in her district earned “D” and “F” grades on their state-mandated school report cards.

Maestas, who has served as the board president since March, said she is proud of what the board accomplished during her first term.

“One of the things I am proud of is for the first time closing the achievement gap (among poor and minority students) was one of our district goals,” Maestas said, referring to formal goals that help guide APS’ budget decisions.

Other accomplishments Maestas pointed to were passing a policy aimed at promoting parent engagement and improving the district’s relationship with the state despite policy differences over teacher evaluations and testing.

But there is still much to accomplish, she said, adding she would like to see more APS schools become community schools – which offer social services to students and their families – and initiatives aimed at cultural inclusiveness.