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State education chief hears ABQ concerns

SANTA FE, N.M. — Albuquerque parents, teachers, business leaders and elected officials gathered Tuesday to offer their two cents on education.

New Mexico’s Public Education Department organized the community meeting to get input on the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, a successor to No Child Left Behind that gives states more policy control.

State Education Secretary Hanna Skandera is holding forums in six cities, from Farmington to Las Cruces, and will review the feedback before she completes an ESSA plan for the U.S. Department of Education. Nonpartisan policy organization New Mexico First collaborated with PED to organize and facilitate the series of meetings.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to travel around our state, hear community voices and share some of our resources and successes,” Skandera said.

On Tuesday, participants were divided into small groups in a conference room at Central New Mexico Community College’s Workforce Training Center. Each person had a chance to share opinions on teacher evaluations, school grades, academic requirements, standardized testing and other areas.

The discussions were wide ranging, touching on the poor economy, low teacher pay, ethnic diversity and poverty.

A number of attendees worried that educators are “teaching to the test” because their evaluations are tied to assessments such as the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Jeff Tuttle, a third-grade teacher at Monte Vista Elementary School, said he was happy to hear from people with varied backgrounds and approaches to education.

“It’s always nice to have the opportunity to come together at many different levels,” he said. “I think as a country, we have forgotten how to engage with political controversy in a productive way, and people are used to talking around each other.”

Tuttle suggested that PED hold statewide community meetings every year.

Albuquerque Public Schools board member Peggy Muller-Aragón also thought the conversation was valuable. She attended with fellow APS board members Lorenzo Garcia, Barbara Petersen and Analee Maestas.

“This shows that the governor and secretary of education want to listen to everybody, and a lot of times, that’s not what we hear,” Muller-Aragón said. “They really do care what teachers think and parents think and administrators think.”

Albuquerque was the fourth city on the ESSA tour, which kicked off in Gallup on Oct. 12, then stopped in Farmington and Santa Fe. Next, Skandera will travel south to Roswell and Las Cruces.

New Mexico First will review all the community input and compile a report later this year. PED officials hope to submit their ESSA plan by March.