As I reflect on an eventful first month in office,
I would like to express a deep sense of gratitude for the many people who have made these first 30-plus days both professionally successful and personally gratifying. First and foremost, I would like to thank Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for entrusting me with this momentous responsibility. I would like to thank the amazing team of leaders at the Public Education Department (PED) and the Governor’s Office staff members who have done a spectacular job of onboarding me into the role. I would like to thank the hundreds of superintendents, teachers, union leaders, charter school leaders, principals, community partners, state agency leaders, legislators, parents, families, and students that have so graciously welcomed me into their schools, classrooms, and events. And last but far from least, I would like to thank my amazing wife and son who have been firmly behind me in this new professional adventure, even as it has completely changed each of our lives.
As of writing this, I have had the opportunity in my first month to visit 28 schools in 12 different districts and many different charter organizations all around the state. I have been in classrooms spanning every grade level and that have included dozens of different programs and curricula. I have met with numerous state and federal legislators, attended three cabinet meetings, and begun collaborating across several state agencies on important projects. I have done presentations and attended round table discussion with teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, charter school leaders, business leaders, and the Legislative Education Study Committee. And I have been able to hear firsthand some of the challenges facing our students and educators, and great ideas for how we can push forward with innovative new solutions that propel education in New Mexico boldly forward.
Among my many reflections over this first month, there are a number of themes that have emerged:
Optimism of the Moment
I have been inspired by the optimism that our amazing educators exude in nearly each and every conversation. Teachers, education assistants, instructional support providers, principals, superintendents, and non-classroom educators have all expressed how they feel that the state is headed in a new and positive direction when it comes to education. The major reasons for optimism that I have heard repeatedly include investments in teacher salaries, the forthcoming improvements to our accountability systems, and a changing narrative about the power and professionalism of educators in the state.
Power of CTE Programming
I have been highly impressed by the passion with which students across the state have spoken about their Career and Technical Education (CTE) pathways. At Alamogordo High School (AHS), I met a student who brimmed with excitement when he described to me his award-winning documentary that he made as part of his film class, and how he was entering it into film festivals across the country. Two other AHS students recounted the countless hours they’d spent over nights and weekends working on their projects for a mechanical engineering competition. All three were looking forward to pursuing college degrees and/or entering career fields related to their CTE courses.
Similarly, at a town hall in Hobbs, community residents and parents expressed their excitement over the district’s planned launch of a $50 million regional CTE high school. It was great to get first-hand evidence of the power of this kind of relevant, life-preparatory learning experience.
K-5 Plus and Extended Learning Program
Across the state I have heard stories both about the impact of extended learning time programs on the participating schools and students, and also about the difficulties many districts faced in implementation. We have been documenting the lessons learned from year one, and are working diligently to incorporate improvements in the program and its implementation requirements for year two. Principals in Deming had the following reflections about the impact of the programs:
- We saw 30-40% growth on IStation data for the students who participated in the K-5 Plus program
- In one class of students, we’re up to 69% proficiency, up from 27% just a few years ago.
- Our kids had so much fun in our Freshman Academy (part of the Extended Learning Time program). Kids were telling us that they weren’t scared on their first day of high school because they had that experience. Our teachers go to know their freshman students and created career paths with them during the Summer. We’ve kept the momentum going by incorporating a freshman seminar class during the school year that builds off of our Extended Learning TIme Freshman Academy.
- We did Extended Learning Time to provide extra support for 8th grade students who were behind. Students all of a sudden felt like they were ahead. They actually wanted more time in the program.
Statements like these serve as a powerful reminder of why we are working so hard to extend access to these programs to as many students as we can. Thank you to the educators, students, and communities who have boldly embraced this program. We encourage all educators to register for and attend our upcoming K-5 Plus Convening on October 25 in Albuquerque. At the convening, we’ll be highlighting districts that implemented the program, sharing lessons learned and tips for successful implementation, and sharing best practices for financial modeling for interested schools and districts.
Addressing the Teacher Shortage
Perhaps more than any other issue, teacher recruitment has been noted as a major concern for principals and superintendents. Educators have expressed concerns and ideas about all areas of the teacher pipeline, including
- how we get more college students into teacher preparation programs;
- how we ensure that teachers have the right pre-service training to enable them to be successful when they enter the classroom;
- how our licensure system operates in service of getting great teachers into the classroom; and,
- how our compensation, benefits, and retirement systems enable us to keep great educators in the classroom.
At the PED, we are taking these insights from the field to heart, and will be working to support schools and districts to address this critical need.
Data and Accountability
One of the most exciting aspects of this moment in New Mexico education is the opportunity to completely remake our data and accountability systems. For too long, we have underinvested in the information systems our educators need to effectively support students in the classroom. In addition, our systems need to integrate our financial, HR, and other operational data so that we can be a modern and innovative leader in data visualization and reporting for educational improvement. PED will be aggressively pursuing all available avenues to accelerate the upgrade of our data systems.
In addition, it has been great listening to educators, PED staff, and other stakeholders on the immense work going into the reimagining of our student assessment system, our teacher evaluation system, and our school report cards. I am encouraged about the possibilities that these initiatives entail for ensuring that each of these systems result in the data-informed and student-centered conversations about teaching and learning that lead to educator growth and improved student outcomes. We will be making announcements about the assessment system in the coming weeks. We are shooting to roll out the school report cards this winter, and the teacher evaluation system in spring.
Content Frameworks and Support
Across the state, many of our schools and districts are in very different places when it comes to implementing coherent, standards-based instructional programs. Many districts and schools have undertaken comprehensive efforts to create aligned content frameworks and to train teachers on common core standards implementation. At Amy Biehl Charter School in Albuquerque, I was impressed with two young students who told me that they chose to attend the school based on the strength of its humanities department.
Among the major needs that educators expressed were a need for more professional development in math, a need for more teacher training on research-based methods for teaching reading, and an update to our social studies standards.
Additionally, educators and stakeholders spoke to the need to ensure that all of our students at each school have access to culturally and linguistically relevant materials. This need was particularly acute when speaking with educators in our dual language programs for Native American languages. It was also noted that some social studies curricula do not sufficiently document the contribution of African Americans, Native Americans, or Hispanics to the development of our state or of our nation.
As we move forward, we will be finalizing and presenting a strategic plan that puts forward our coherent vision for addressing these needs and opportunities, and for how the Public Education Department will actively work to create an educational ecosystem in which all New Mexico students are engaged in a culturally and linguistically responsive learning experience that socially, emotionally, and academically prepares each of them for success in college, career, and life. I look forward to continuing to meet with and work alongside our many stakeholder groups to make substantive progress that drives New Mexico education forward!