Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories on the candidates running for the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education. The election is Feb. 7. Below are candidate bios and their responses to a Journal questionnaire.
Lorenzo Garcia, vice president of the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, is battling three contenders and a write-in candidate to win another term representing District 3, which covers the North Valley and downtown areas.
The 65-year-old retired public health expert, who has held the seat since 2009, said he would like to serve again to “continue to build relationships” that address “chronic and emerging needs within our district and flailing economy.”
He faces a diverse group of community members who are new to politics, but have strong ties to education.
Ali Ennenga, 53, worked in APS elementary and middle schools from 2009 to 2015 before starting Color Clarity LLC, a business that helps children and adults improve their reading. From 1991 to 2009, she worked as a paralegal for various attorneys.
Retired principal Amy Legant, 65, headed Eugene Field Elementary, Cochiti Elementary and Alvarado Elementary during her career, which also included stints as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico, and manager of a Gates Foundation grant for the New Mexico Initiative for Leadership and Technology.
Charles White, 77, also has a long history in education administration, serving as APS deputy superintendent, and Las Cruces Public Schools associate superintendent of human resources and deputy superintendent. He has worked in real estate and education consulting.
Kathleen Chavez , a retired teacher, is running as a write-in.
All the candidates agree budget cuts are a major concern for APS — the district is facing a possible $7 million to $12 million reduction for the current fiscal year on top of $12.5 million taken during the special session in October. The Legislature, which is working to address a $69 million deficit, will determine the final numbers over the next few months.
“The first priority will be how best to determine what cuts can be made while still doing as little harm to children’s education opportunities in each classroom,” Legant said.
The candidates split on the value of Common Core, a national initiative outlining English and math standards for each grade.
Garcia called Common Core an “important methodology.”
“If implemented thoughtfully, it can help students build their basic competency skills as learners,” he said.
Legant and Ennenga have both worked with Common Core in the classroom. The standards are “solid instructionally,” but have been “distorted vastly when attached to the high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation,” Legant said.
Ennenga argued that, “in actual practice, Common Core does not work for the student or the teacher.”
To White, Common Core is “insufficient as a standards guide.”
While the contenders agreed that the board must collaborate with the New Mexico Public Education Department, most did not support several key state initiatives.
The APS board candidates all said PED’s teacher evaluation system weighs standardized test scores too heavily. Currently, student improvement on exams makes up half of a teacher’s evaluation in most cases, with other measures like classroom observation and attendance comprising the other half.
Garcia, Ennenga and Legant said assessments should not factor in the evaluations, while White believes they should represent a smaller percentage.
“Research indicates that a percentage much lower than 50 percent would be more valid,” White said. “To establish a valid percentage, educators must take into account factors such as student mobility, attendance, and teacher training.”
Only one candidate backed third-grade retention — the practice of holding back third-graders if they can’t meet reading benchmarks.
Ennenga supports the policy, but not the specific reading remediation practices advocated by PED.
“APS needs to be open to innovative, research-based, out-of-the-box interventions to move students forward, discarding what doesn’t work,” Ennenga said.
Gov. Susana Martinez and Education Secretary Hanna Skandera have pushed for an end to “social promotion” during each legislative session, but never gotten the bill into law.
Education: Master of Arts in Education, University of Phoenix, Albuquerque, 2009; Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration, University of Phoenix, Albuquerque, 2007.
Occupation: Reading/education consultant, small business owner, Color Clarity LLC, July 2016; executive director of a nonprofit organization, Color Clarity Inc. (in process); teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools, 2009-15 (Atrisco Elementary, 1 year; Madison Middle School, 1 year; Ernie Pyle Middle School, 5 years); legal assistant/paralegal with various attorneys, 1991-2009.
Family: Karl Ennenga, one child (deceased).
Political/government experience: None.
Major professional accomplishment: Seeing the look on a child’s face when he or she discovers a love of reading is priceless. I consider my work with individual children to overcome reading difficulties to be my greatest accomplishment.
Major personal accomplishment: I did not have an opportunity to return to college until I was 40 years old. My teaching career began when I was 45. I completed both my degrees in five years while working full time.
Lorenzo L. Garcia
Education: Bachelors of University Studies, 1985, UNM; 19 hours in Masters of Public Health Program, 2005 (non-degree).
Occupation: Retired, 2014; 12 years in public health, 1994-2005; Metropolitan Court Adult Probation, 10 years; University of New Mexico Mental Health Center, 5 years; various community agencies, 15 years.
Family: Sylvia, three adult children and their spouses.
Political/government experience: Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education, 2009-17.
Major professional accomplishment: I’ve tried to ensure I leave things in better shape than when first encountered, to organize relationship issues, data and not political agendas or personalities; collaborate, to move our community forward, and learn from mistakes.
Major personal accomplishment: I’ve grown to enjoy all that life has to offer; my relationships, friends and adversaries alike. Each relationship, and at times circumstances, presents interesting challenges and opportunities.
Education: Doctorate of Education, with a dual focus in Curriculum and Instruction and Education Administration, University of New Mexico, 1990; Education Specialist, Education Administration, UNM, 1982; Master of Arts, Literacy Education and Assessment, University of Colorado, Boulder, 1978; Bachelor of Arts, Elementary Education with a Minor in Communication Disorders, UNM, 1971.
Occupation: Retired, June 2013; principal, Eugene Field Elementary School, Albuquerque Public Schools, 2009-13; (academic) accountability coordinator, APS, 2004-09; manager of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant for the New Mexico Initiative for Leadership and Technology, 2001-04; adjunct professor with the Teacher Enhancement Program, UNM, 2000-01; principal, Cochiti Elementary School, APS, 1994-2000; principal, Alvarado Elementary School, APS, 1990-94; assistant principal, Lavaland Elementary School and Martin Luther King Elementary School, fall 1989; staffer, Human Resources Department, APS, summers 1989-90; teaching, 1971-89.
Political/government experience: N/A
Major professional accomplishment: I had a very successful 40-year career with APS and N.M. public schools as a teacher, school principal, UNM adjunct professor, and management level administrator. I loved every minute.
Major personal accomplishment: My major personal accomplishment was serving as my parents’ caretaker in their declining years.
Charles W. White
Education: University of New Mexico, Master of Arts, 1964; UNM, Bachelor of Arts, 1961.
Occupation: Consultant in educational management (sole proprietor), 1995-present; Steinborn Realtors, associate, 2005-08; Las Cruces Public Schools, associate superintendent of human resources and deputy superintendent, 1993-2005; Idaho Department of Employment, chief of appeals, 1990-93; Albuquerque Public Schools, teacher, counselor, principal, director of employee relations, deputy superintendent, 1961-90.
Family: Spouse, Linda; four children.
Political/government experience: Employed by local and state governments, 1961-2005.
Major professional accomplishment: Negotiated more than 100 employee contracts throughout the state; directed the financial operations of the state’s two largest school districts; hired and evaluated employees in the state’s two largest school districts.
Major personal accomplishment: A strong sense of integrity, fairness and respect for all persons, and a strong work ethic, all instilled by my parents, teachers, classmates, coaches, colleagues, and by my loving wife and children.
APS District 3 Candidate Questionnaire
1. Do you support legislation that would require retention of third-graders who can’t read at grade level, coupled with intense early literacy intervention? Why or why not?
Ennenga: The proposed third-grade retention bill proposes too many levels of remediation. APS needs to be open to innovative, research-based, out-of-the-box interventions to move students forward, discarding what doesn’t work.
Garcia: No. Although well intentioned, this approach misses key issues. Children’s ability to learn is impacted by their social emotional needs, family, neighborhood and overcrowded classrooms. We must invest in parent visits, sufficient wraparound services.
Legant: No. I believe it’s more effective to fully fund in-house, daily, intensive literacy intervention to identified Pre-K through 1st grade students when the achievement gaps are smaller and have a greater chance of being closed.
White: No. If students need to be retained, that should come at the end of kindergarten or first grade. More resources should be placed at the Pre-K to third grade to address literacy issues.
2. What percentage, if any, of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student test scores and why?
Ennenga: Many teachers feel they are “teaching to the test.” When the PARCC test is based on a curriculum other than the one used in instruction, neither the teacher nor the student can be properly evaluated.
Garcia: Zero. Rhetoric has been a red herring for political leverage and opportunistic gain. Test scores aren’t a valid reflection of teacher performance. We must build conditions where excellent teaching occurs and teachers are treated respectfully.
Legant: None. The standardized test is a single snapshot of student success. The comprehensive teacher observation system offers a more productive evaluation process to strengthen instructional practice and to foster continuous professional improvement.
White: Research indicates that a percentage much lower than 50 percent would be more valid. To establish a valid percentage, educators must take into account factors such as student mobility, attendance, and teacher training.
3. Should APS be divided into more than one district? Why or why not?
Ennenga: This question requires careful consideration. Would such a measure be impartial? Would one school district benefit more than another? What would be the personal and economic cost to our children?
Garcia: No. A divided APS assumes creating new school districts will perform better. Proposed legislation does not take into consideration the tax base needed, tax liability and our capital needs. New districts will see taxes increase.
Legant: No. I support reorganizing the district into four areas under the direct supervision of the superintendent to preserve and equitably apply the district’s mission, and to foster direct communication paths between the district and communities they serve.
White: Before APS were to be divided, we must ensure that all students are receiving excellent educational opportunities. Only then could we consider what administrative-sized district works best. Additionally, the tax-base disparities must be considered.
4. Do you agree with state competency exams for a student to graduate? Why or why not?
Ennenga: Yes, but are students who are unable to read really competent? They should not graduate. Starting early with the correct interventions will assure that graduates become productive, responsible citizens.
Garcia: No. Implementing these exams has been inefficient, demoralizing. Teachers already give final exams. Often EOC results don’t get back to the teacher until months after they are taken, defeating any use as an assessment tool.
Legant: I believe they are redundant. Student graduation should be awarded based on a student’s daily in-class performance, the teacher’s evaluation of that student’s grasp of skills and concepts, and the student’s ability to apply them.
White: Graduation standards must be established, but can be flexible. Included in the standards should be numerous identifiable measurements of student growth, enabling a student to receive a diploma of accomplishment that would be acceptable.
5. Do you agree with Common Core? Why or why not?
Ennenga: In theory and on paper, Common Core looks really good. I’ve worked with Common Core in the classroom and I know that, in actual practice, it does not work for the student or the teacher.
Garcia: Yes. Common Core is an important methodology. If implemented thoughtfully, it can help students build their basic competency skills as learners.
Legant: I embraced the Common Core standards when they were introduced. They are solid instructionally and coordinate with children’s developmental stages. Their purpose was distorted vastly when attached to the high-stakes testing and teacher evaluation.
White: Common Core is insufficient as a standards guide. The curriculum necessary for instructional training hasn’t been established. Districts must provide proper training in the curriculum delivery that will set the standards to be measured.
6. Should APS try to work more closely with the New Mexico Public Education Department? Why or why not?
Ennenga: APS and NMPED have the opportunity to move our students from 49th in the nation to a higher level through collaboration and cooperation, working together to implement reading interventions and other programs.
Garcia: Of course. Implementing collaboration should be a two-way process; a rigorous dialogue, not a top-down driven partisan fight. We’ve made some progress and must build a supportive environment based upon the issues.
Legant: I believe the New Mexico PED and the APS district need to follow the rest of the nation in dismantling what the U.S. Congress calls federal overreach by: abandoning the No Child Left Behind mandates and high-stakes testing; establishing local control of curriculum and instruction to address the specific needs of our student population; and replacing the PARCC test with instrument(s) that provide timely, diagnostic feedback.
White: Yes. We must strive to work with PED in sharing ideas, recommendations, and evidence to establish requirements that address the needs of New Mexico schools. We must always resist inappropriate and unfair PED requirements.
7. Do you believe APS should have the ability to move teachers to different schools to meet APS needs? Why or why not?
Ennenga: Teachers should be allowed to stay in the classroom of their choice. I have found that most teachers are willing to do anything to improve their students’ lives. Teachers should take part in the decision.
Garcia: Negotiating reassignments in critical situations, if all parties can agree it’s needed, may be a useful strategy. Everyone must be on board as an a priori basic condition. It may bring additional challenges as all assumptions, processes, must be rigorously examined and implemented with alacrity, as all outcomes are evaluated with measures in place before this is implemented.
Legant: No. I believe the school principal should be responsible for identifying staffing needs, based on the needs of the school’s student population, and hiring accordingly.
White: The district must address the assigning of teachers to specific schools of need within their negotiated agreement with the teachers’ union. Incentives, including monetary stipends, could assist in encouraging such transfers.
8. Do you support the APS directive allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities? Why or why not?
Ennenga: I believe everyone is entitled to privacy. Restrooms and locker rooms should assure privacy and mutual respect among students. My experience is that no student wants to be singled out or be seen as “different.”
Garcia: Yes, provided safeguards for all students are in place. All children must be safe, respected regardless of the pretexts. Schools need clear guidance to ensure opportunities for dialogue between parents, protect confidentiality, close supervision. Staff must be trained in the problem-solving process.
Legant: Yes. I personally believe it was the right thing to do.
White: I support the district’s policy as long as directives are upheld regarding parent/student/administrator conferences and strict confidentiality is maintained by all parties.
9. If elected, what would be your top priorities?
Ennenga: Hold the board to a higher standard of accountability to the community; bridge the budgetary gap between the boardroom and the classroom; and increase interaction between the board and the community.
Garcia: Continue to build relationships that effectively organize collaboration to problem solve and address chronic and emerging needs within our district and flailing economy.
Legant: The first priority will be how best to determine what cuts can be made while still doing as little harm to children’s education opportunities in each classroom. APS should work with state legislators and business leaders to develop long-range plans to create additional funding streams for our schools.
White: I would emphasize transparency and trust to address the challenges facing APS. Budgets should assign more resources at the Pre-K to third grades. My experience will provide the needed changes in the board’s direction.
10. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy hearing?
Ennenga: Yes, I had a personal bankruptcy in the early 1990s.
11. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state? If so, explain.