ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sliding graduation rates are a top concern for new Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Raquel Reedy, but the longtime administrator doesn’t see any easy solutions.
“That’s a very hard question,” she said during a news conference Thursday when asked how to address the drop in APS students getting a cap and gown in four years.
Figures released by the Public Education Department last week show that APS’ graduation rate is 61.7 percent, down from 62.7 percent a year ago and below the statewide average of 68.6 percent.
The new district leader – appointed late Wednesday night after a four-hour closed board meeting – stressed that APS administrators have had the graduation data for only a few days and the statistical analysis is not finished.
“Once we do that, what I want the district to do is to look very, very carefully as to the whys,” Reedy said. “Why did these numbers go down? What could we have done to make sure that did not occur?”
Perennial issues like poverty and crime are almost certainly playing a role, Reedy said.
She resisted comparisons between APS and nearby districts that face similar low-income challenges like Los Lunas, which rose about 2 points to 75.7 percent earning diplomas in four years. Belen saw a dramatic jump from 57.5 percent for the class of 2014 to 72 percent for 2015.
In Albuquerque, kids often don’t have the stability of small-town life, where families “are there for generations,” Reedy said.
“We are an urban community,” she said. “The fact is that our students and families move many times. Consequently, there is very little sustainability, very little consistency where children will stay at one school the entire time.”
One approach Reedy advocates goes back to the classic saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
“We cannot do it alone,” she said. “We cannot deal with the poverty that we are looking at and all of the things our children are facing on a daily basis, the hunger. The community has stopped and really noticed and are doing everything they can now to support.”
Nationally, the community schools movement aims to provide a variety of services within schools, from food banks to health clinics, a model Reedy discussed Thursday.
“It’s not just students, the families also need support,” she said. “The hope is the more we can do that, the better our results will be.”
She did not address the declining graduation rates at the three high schools using the community school model, including Atrisco Heritage Academy, a West Side high school that saw its graduation rate drop from nearly 76 percent in 2013 to 60.5 percent for 2015.
Reedy discussed a number of other issues during the news conference, her first since being awarded the two-year contract less than 24 hours earlier.
Many of her comments focused on guiding the district to a bright future.
“I know APS; I have lived APS,” she said, when asked if she could move APS past the controversy of former Superintendent Luis Valentino’s short tenure. “When I came on board, you are absolutely right, it was a very, very difficult time, but I knew what kind of support was needed to make sure that people knew that we weren’t imploding.”
The district has not yet released Reedy’s contract, which gives her a $240,000 annual salary, but Reedy stressed that she was not looking for a “golden parachute” deal if she was ever asked to resign.
“Because I am local, and I have worked with APS, I don’t need one,” she said. “I just want to do the work.”
Valentino was one of a line of APS superintendents to receive a large buyout, collecting $80,000 and positive reference letter Aug. 31 despite a high-profile scandal: his hand-picked deputy, Jason Martinez, never completed a mandatory criminal background check that would have revealed child sex assault and assault charges in Denver.
The board asked Reedy to become acting superintendent and charged her with stabilizing the embattled district.
Educators and board members have praised her listening skills, upbeat personality and steadiness under pressure.
A few months ago, she earned an endorsement from the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, which said the district needed good, consistent leadership. The Albuquerque NAACP also backed her in a letter to board President Dave Peercy.
Reedy, a veteran APS administrator with a Harvard degree, is low-key and had never applied for the superintendent position before.
Over 39 years, she rose from special education teacher to elementary school principal to associate superintendent for elementary education, a position she received in 2007.