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Governor praises state’s STEM initiative

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Addressing more than 400 educators from around the state Friday morning, Gov. Susana Martinez said New Mexico is increasing spending for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs in an ongoing drive to hire, support and retain STEM teachers in rural and low-income schools.

The goal is to provide equal opportunities for all students, regardless of where they may live.

One such program is a $5,000 stipend offered to teachers who agree to work in rural, out-of-the-way places where it’s difficult to attract science, math and other specialized teachers.

GOV. MARTINEZ

GOV. MARTINEZ

“STEM education is absolutely critical to our vision,” Martinez said. “We’re offering more support than ever before.”

Her comments came during the STEM Symposium at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Albuquerque. The conference wraps up today.

In 2013, the state allocated more than $1 million for STEM programs. Last year, the funding just about doubled, and this fiscal year, 2015-16, rose by 20 percent to $2.4 million.

“The future of our state’s economy depends on having an educated workforce that can meet the needs of employers in the years to come,” Martinez said. “If we want New Mexico’s children to compete for the jobs of tomorrow, it is absolutely critical that they begin building a strong math and science foundation today. By putting more money than ever before into STEM, we are investing in our future.”

The governor took the stage shortly after a lively presentation – a chemistry “experiment” – by two Valencia High School students, Kiara Petersen and Dominic Torrez, involving hydrogen peroxide, potassium iodide and dish-washing liquid.

Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, an unwitting participant in the experiment, was kept in the dark about its outcome – as was the governor – until a startling chemical reaction shot a small mountain of pink foam about 6 feet into the air, surprising the audience.

Martinez laughed aloud and praised the two Los Lunas students for their animated knowledge of chemistry, but also used the opportunity to credit those who gave them their knowledge.

“Every single child in this state should have the opportunity to have an amazing teacher like you,” she told the assembled educators.

She urged teachers who hope to receive the $5,000 stipend to hurry and submit applications through their school districts. The deadline is June 15.

The 2015-16 state budget allocates $1.5 million for the program, which, in addition to STEM educators, is open to special education, bilingual and other specialized teachers.

Martinez also touted a $1 million investment in the state’s advanced placement program by the nonprofit College Board in May 2013. Together with state funds, the money is used to train teachers in remote districts and ultimately help high school students succeed once they reach college.

Last October, a Legislative Finance Committee report said a “new approach” – including better incentives and improved hiring decisions – is needed to attract and place more effective teachers in high-poverty schools, including many in rural areas.

LFC staff members studied educational strategies in 15 high-poverty schools to better understand why many such schools struggle academically while others don’t. The schools that performed better had a mix of veteran and beginning teachers, used test data to help inform instruction, were sensitive to the different cultures of their students, had high expectations, and provided “wrap-around” services.

Incentive programs aren’t new. Albuquerque Public Schools offers a $5,000 annual stipend to experienced teachers to work at two high-poverty schools – Rio Grande High and Ernie Pyle Middle School. And at Emerson Elementary, one of those studied in the LFC report, teachers receive higher salaries for working an extra hour every school day and five extra days a year.

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