The Albuquerque Public Schools board decided Wednesday night to drop plans for a University of Virginia turnaround program for struggling schools offered through the state. The program was highly touted by the district’s administration.
Interim APS Superintendent Brad Winter and Chief Academic Officer Shelly Green spoke highly of the program, which is designed to help struggling schools improve through leadership training and professional development.
“This would give us a structure (for a turnaround program) that has been successful in other districts,” Green said, adding lessons learned by schools participating in the program could be shared with other schools.
Despite the recommendations, board members voted 5-2 to reject a proposed agreement with the UVA School Turn Around Program.
Board President Don Duran and member Analee Maestas voted in favor of the agreement – though Duran, before the vote, said he had reservations about the program.
It is offered through the New Mexico Public Education Department to schools that have scored a “D” or an “F” on their state-issued school report cards.
Under the proposed agreement APS administration had reached with the University of Virginia, five district elementary schools would enter the program next year. The proposal didn’t specify which schools.
Before voting it down, board members raised various concerns about the program, ranging from loss of district autonomy over schools to the program’s use of “below-the-line funding” from the state.
Below-the-line funding refers to state education money set aside for programs overseen by PED – often, they are competitive or limited to certain qualifying districts – rather than funneled into the state’s education funding formula.
Several APS board members have said they don’t like below-the-line funding because it undermines districts’ local control.
“I think there is a huge problem with the (program’s) use of below-the-line money,” board member David Peercy said Wednesday.
Winter said Gov. Susana Martinez and the current state administration support the use of such money, so the district might as well take advantage of it.
He also argued that, because the UVA program is funded that way, the district wouldn’t have to pay for it.
He also said that, if the district decided it didn’t like the program, it could quit at any time.
In general, Winter argued that the benefits of the program would outweigh any concerns and that some of the worries were unfounded – including that the program would result in teachers and principals being fired, or other punitive measures.
Winter said the program has been shown to be successful in districts around the country and in New Mexico.
Deborah Elder, head of the district’s office of innovation, said New Mexico schools participating in the UVA program saw improvements in state test scores last year that outstripped the rest of the state.
Scores for students in schools participating in the program improved by 8.6 percent on the math portion of the Standards Based Assessment and 11.8 percent in reading, while statewide student scores improved 1.2 percent in math and dropped 0.8 percent in reading.
Among the school districts that have used the program are the Aztec, Hobbs and Las Cruces public schools.
But Peercy said the program has not been a success everywhere and questioned whether it could sustain improvement over time.
Peercy said he looked at schools in Cincinnati using the program. He said they showed initial success there, but then student test scores and school grades dropped back down to previous levels.
“So I’m saying I have some doubts about the claim they’ve had widespread success across the nation,” Peercy said.
Board member Barbara Petersen said she doesn’t like that schools are selected for the program based on their school grades. She said she doesn’t believe in the accuracy of the state’s school rating system.
And board member Lorenzo Garcia said he would prefer to partner with a local university for a turnaround program.
Winter said there are plans for the University of New Mexico to create a turnaround program similar to UVA’s, but it does not yet exist.
A budget bill being considered in the Roundhouse includes $1 million for New Mexico universities to create a turnaround program similar to that offered by UVA.