ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories on the candidates running for the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education. The election is Feb. 7. Below this news story are the brief bios for each candidate followed by their answers to a Journal questionnaire.
The race for Albuquerque Public Schools District 5 is wide open.
Incumbent Steven Michael Quezada is now a Bernalillo County Commissioner, and four newcomers hope to take his place representing the West Mesa area on the board.
They include two businesswomen, a retired New Mexico Department of Human Services administrator and a retired biologist.
Annie Bell-Rahman, 70, spent decades as a scientist for Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Air Force and Army Corps of Engineers, focused primarily on water-related projects. She has also been a tribal liaison and goodwill ambassador to China and Brazil.
Racheal M. Gonzales, 46, has worked in the district’s finance, internal audit and Pre-K intensive support departments. Her greatest accomplishment, she said, was earning her Master of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix in 2012 while raising two daughters and working full time at APS.
University of New Mexico graduate Kayla Marshall, 33, also has business experience. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and MBA, pursing a career as a patent engineer and accounting and human resources expert.
A long-time political activist, Candy Patterson, 65, has served as West Side Democratic ward chair since 2007. She also helped organize the student Bubble Gum Brigade to campaign for school bond elections and advocated for more West Side schools as a member of the APS Capital Outlay Master Plan committee.
From 1977 to 2003, Patterson worked for the New Mexico Department of Human Services.
The four candidates have diverse goals, but all said they are concerned about the amount of standardized testing in the classroom.
“One standardized, high-stake test is not the best way to measure student knowledge,” Patterson said. “There are other innovative ways for students to exhibit their mastery of subjects.”
The New Mexico Public Education Department selects a number of the district’s standardized tests, including the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC.
Bell-Rahman and Marshall advocated a more collaborative relationship with PED, while Gonzales took a strong stand against the department.
“APS should be the driver of public education policy,” Gonzales said. “PED has imposed unnecessary testing on our students, which takes away from classroom learning.”
Patterson thinks PED and APS should work closely — with a caveat.
“If the state is creating conditions where kids and teachers can’t flourish, APS has an obligation to say something — and the other way around,” she said. “It’s reciprocal accountability.”
None of the candidates support PED’s push for third-grade retention, the controversial practice of holding back third-graders who can’t read. Gov. Susana Martinez has pushed to end “social promotion” throughout her administration, but never succeeded.
“Retention of children is a decision for moms and dads to make with the child’s teacher,” Marshall said. “There are signs of reading difficulty in first and second grades that need to be communicated to parents and addressed right away to minimize the need to retain children.”
PED’s teacher evaluation system is also unpopular with the District 5 candidates.
Currently, student improvement on standardized tests makes up half of the evaluation; measures like attendance and parent surveys comprise the other half.
Bell-Rahman said she thinks the system is unfair because “depending on the subject, students may not or cannot test well.”
Annie Sarah Bell-Rahman
Place of residence: Albuquerque
Education: Bachelor of Science in Biology from Bishop College, 1968: graduate study at the University of New Mexico and University of Alabama-Huntsville.
Occupation: Biologist/project manager, retired, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle, Wash., 2001-2008; Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque, 1976-2001; U.S. Air Force, Albuquerque, 1973-1976; Los Alamos National Laboratory, 1968-1971.
Family: Two birth children, five stepchildren.
Political/government experience: None.
Major professional accomplishment: Lead project manager for water-related projects affecting our nation’s waters, wetlands and roads. Also served as tribal liaison for various tribes throughout the United States.
Major personal accomplishment: Goodwill ambassador to China and Brazil. Eldest son graduated from UNM with a 4.0 and became a teacher at APS. He then went on to obtain his master’s degree in education with a math endorsement. He has been teaching for 17 years.
Racheal M. Gonzales
Place of residence: Albuquerque
Education: Master of Business Administration, University of Phoenix, 2012; Bachelor of Science Business Management, University of Phoenix, 2009.
Occupation: Director of human resources, 2015-present; paraprofessional- Pre-K intensive support program, APS, 2013-2015; internal auditor, APS, 2010-2012; finance, APS, 2007-2010.
Family: Two daughters, Serene and Aurora.
Political/government experience: Registered lobbyist/child advocate, New Mexico Legislature, 2012-present: (Erin’s Law, 2014), (Racheal’s Law, 2016).
Major professional accomplishment: My professional accomplishments are using my education and experience to take on any employment challenges that I’ve had. This was especially true in my work as a lobbyist and advocate for children.
Major personal accomplishment: Raising my children and being a recipient of the Spirit of New Mexico Award in 2015; getting my MBA as a single parent, while working full time at Albuquerque Public Schools.
Kayla Renee Marshall
Place of residence: Albuquerque
Education: Master of Business Administration, University of New Mexico, 2007; Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering, UNM, 2005.
Occupation: Accounting and human resources, Albuquerque Country Club, 2015-present; co-owner, RJ Handyman, 2010-2015; patent engineer, DeLizio Gilliam PLLC, 2008-2010.
Family: Matthew Marshall, three sons.
Political/Government Experience: None.
Major professional accomplishment: At work, I proposed and implemented a new health plan structure, which was $30,000 lower than the renewal rate. Employees benefited from both lower premiums and a company contribution to their health savings accounts.
Major personal accomplishment: My middle son received a medal from his teacher for standing up against racial bullying in the classroom. It is most rewarding to see my children becoming the type of people we have been training them to become.
Place of residence: Albuquerque
Education: Bachelor of University Studies, University of New Mexico, 1977.
Occupation: New Mexico Department of Human Services, retired, 1977-2003.
Family: Frank Comfort, one child.
Political/government experience: Democratic ward chair on the West Side, 2007-present.
Major professional accomplishment: Helping organize the “Bubble Gum Brigade” and turning out the vote for the school bond elections; and as a member of the APS Capital Outlay Master Plan, advocating for building schools on the West Side.
Major personal accomplishment: My husband and I have been married for 39 years, and we raised a wonderful son. For 26 years, I’ve worked in the community to ensure political representation and needed resources on the West Side.
APS District 5 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?
Bell-Rahman: No, I do not support such policies. Data shows that retaining students will have a long-term negative impact on graduation rates. Furthermore, we should be expanding reading interventions from K-6.
Gonzales: I do not support legislation that requires retention of third-graders because PED does not have a working system in place to notify parents that their child is falling behind.
Marshall: Retention of children is a decision for moms and dads to make with the child’s teacher. There are signs of reading difficulty in first and second grades that need to be communicated to parents and addressed right away to minimize the need to retain children.
Patterson: No. Our kids need intervention — not retention. States that have implemented similar laws like Florida and New York prove that this program is harmful to students and increases high school dropout rates.
2. What percentage, if any, of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student test scores and why?
Bell-Rahman: None, because depending on the subject, students may not or cannot test well, such as special education students or English as a Second Language students.
Gonzales: None of the teacher’s evaluations should be based on students’ test scores. Students have different learning modalities and some may not test well.
Marshall: I do not believe we should be evaluating teachers based on the PARCC. There are too many factors outside of teacher control and it creates a situation where we are teaching to the test.
Patterson: I don’t believe student scores should be tied to teacher evaluations. Evaluations should be about how a teacher can improve their teaching.
3. Should APS be divided into more than one district? Why or why not?
Bell-Rahman: Not at this time because of the proposed budget cuts we are facing. As it is now, West Side schools would receive less funding from schools located on the East Side. There should be a study before any such division takes place.
Gonzales: I don’t believe that APS should be divided into more than one district. Although it is a very large district, the funding formula ensures that each neighborhood has equal access to capital funding.
Marshall: It is a conversation worth having, but I will only support proposals if they produce better results for students and taxpayers. This is a dual criterion and both criteria must be met.
Patterson: No. I fear our community would be further segregated if APS is split. West Side classrooms and schools are overcrowded. I support looking at funding for new schools, smaller classes, and not new districts.
4. Do you agree with state competency exams for a student to graduate? Why or why not?
Bell-Rahman: No, I believe that the students’ grade in class should be enough for students to graduate. If you pass the class test and turn in assignments with a passing grade, that should be enough.
Gonzales: There is more than one exam that monitors student competency. The PARCC exam is too time consuming and doesn’t allow for different modalities. Sometimes students don’t test well, and it’s not a true indicator of knowledge.
Marshall: If we set appropriate grade-level standards for what should be taught, then it should be enough that students pass their classes. I do not see any additional need to pass an exam if students have successfully completed coursework.
Patterson: One standardized, high-stake test is not the best way to measure student knowledge. There are other innovative ways for students to exhibit their mastery of subjects.
5. Do you agree with Common Core? Why or why not?
Bell-Rahman: No, because it changed from what it was originally intended to what we have now, and teachers are teaching to the test rather than teaching to learn.
Gonzales: I agree with Common Core, because it offers a basis of comparison between schools that allows teachers to know where their strengths and weaknesses are.
Marshall: No, because our students are not becoming critical thinkers. They are not mastering the fundamentals (reading, writing, math) that allow for advanced levels of thinking and learning. Common Core pushes advanced thinking before mastering the basics.
Patterson: Yes. Common Core is a framework that creates across-the-board standards. The problem is when Common Core is tied to PARCC testing — it doesn’t need to be. Children learn at different rates and standardized curriculum does not work.
6. Should APS try to work more closely with the New Mexico Public Education Department? Why or why not?
Bell-Rahman: I think it would help and be better overall.
Gonzales: APS should be the driver of public education policy. PED has imposed unnecessary testing on our students, which takes away from classroom learning.
Marshall: School boards throughout the state should be advising NMPED and our lawmakers. It is the responsibility of boards to insulate staff from political environments and to maximize opportunities to positively impact law and regulation.
Patterson: The PED and APS should work closely. However, if the state is creating conditions where kids and teachers can’t flourish, APS has an obligation to say something — and the other way around. It’s reciprocal accountability.
7. Do you believe APS should have the ability to move teachers to different schools to meet APS needs? Why or why not?
Bell-Rahman: No, not without their consent because a teacher may choose to work close to home or near a school that offers special classes or programs for their children. We should value our teachers and provide them with opportunities to enrich their career.
Gonzales: I support moving teachers only if the teachers agree to it.
Marshall: Yes, but it should not be a forced transfer. We need to be flexible and creative to use personnel resources effectively, especially with the possibility of state budget cuts.
Patterson: Teacher retention is key, and teachers should be able to pick the school where they’re happiest. They stay in the district and the profession longer. Let’s be sure to take their needs into account.
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?
Bell-Rahman: I believe in the rule of law. I will abide by the law as well as enforce it.
Gonzales: I do support the APS directive allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identities because it’s a matter of their equal rights.
Marshall: All children deserve an education no matter their feelings about their gender. However, individuals of opposite biological sex should not use the same bathroom or locker room or play on the same sports team because it creates an unfair advantage and females suffer at the hands of biological males.
Patterson: Yes, I do. Each child should go to school knowing they will be safe. This follows federal nondiscrimination law and is existing school board policy.
9. If elected, what would be your top priorities?
Bell-Rahman: Minimizing budget cuts, dealing with teacher morale (raises, testing, school ratings) and student graduation.
Gonzales: Safety, testing, and smaller class sizes.
Marshall: Reduce or eliminate funding to items not directly related to teaching; eliminate excessive testing; solve our budget-deficit problem.
Patterson: Improve student outcomes by teaching to the whole child; expanding wraparound services for community schools; reduce class sizes; limit funding cuts; push back on too much testing; and improve parent, community involvement in our schools.
10. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy hearing?
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.