PED official: Solution to teacher shortage sitting in classroom

There are more than 335,000 potential teacher recruits in New Mexico — every child in the state’s public schools. 

That’s according to Gwen Perea Warniment, the deputy secretary in charge of teacher training and recruitment for the Public Education Department. She has a big job in a state where 644 classrooms were filled by long-term substitutes this school year. 

And as our report this week showed, that figure doesn’t really get at the state’s complicated hiring problem. It doesn’t show that rural and low-income schools have the toughest time hiring teachers, the massive lack in specialties like special education, bilingual and math classes, and that a growing reliance on people without education degrees has translated to greener teachers and higher turnover. Gwen Perea Warniment is deputy decretary for Teaching and Learning at the Public Education Department. (Courtesy of PED)

“There’s some important nuances to that because you have turnover in certain areas that’s much more severe than in others.

Teacher shortage deeper, more complex than vacancies suggest

For the first time in three years, the number of classrooms missing a teacher fell in New Mexico rather than increased. It was so hopeful a sign Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham bragged about the 13% drop in teacher vacancies in her State of the State speech. It’s pretty simple math — this school year 89 school districts across New Mexico couldn’t fill 644 teaching slots, while in 2018, that number was 740. 

But the state teacher shortage is deeper and more complicated than a tally of open teaching positions around the state, with superintendents performing calculus to figure out how best to meet the needs of students.  

Data from the Public Education Department shows skyrocketing numbers of people with bachelor’s degrees stepping into classrooms without teacher training. It’s a trend that syncs with a drop in the number of teaching candidates emerging from the state’s university education departments.  But those teachers quit at much higher rates than traditionally trained teachers because, and like many beginning educators, they don’t feel properly supported for the rigors of the job. 

The teacher shortage plays out in the day-to-day lives of students through larger class sizes in some schools, combined grades in rural areas, fewer electives and more online classes.  

“It’s very district and region specific,” Karen Trujillo, superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools and former New Mexico secretary of education, said about how the state’s teacher shortage affects classrooms.

Trujillo created the annual New Mexico Educator Vacancy Report in 2015 when she was a researcher at New Mexico State University. As an example of how the teacher shortage affects small school districts more than it might large districts, she described a high school with just one teacher trained to teach English learners.  “If that teacher retires, the chances of that district finding an ELL teacher, just because there are not very many out on the market, are slim to none.”

If the New Mexico Legislature and Lujan Grisham are going to reverse the state’s teacher shortage, they will need an array of approaches to recruit and keep teachers from New Mexico, education advocates say.

Funding the Future: An early education trust fund

The term “trust fund babies” may evoke millennial hipsters in trendy urban neighborhoods living off wealth stockpiled by their more entrepreneurial parents or grandparents. It’s a lifestyle most working class New Mexico families perhaps wouldn’t recognize or even aspire to. But Rep. Doreen Gallegos, D-Las Cruces, sometimes has trouble explaining her proposal to create a revenue source to support the new state Early Childhood Education and Care Department. So she’s marketing the idea as a trust fund for the state’s 123,630 children under age 5. The analogy is a good one. 

The rich grandparents would be the state of New Mexico.

Teacher pay and other education priorities for legislative session

Sylvia Ulloa

There’s one thing most New Mexico policy makers and advocates seem to agree on as we barrel toward the 2020 legislative session on Jan. 21: Despite boosting pay for teachers and other public school employees in 2019, they’re not finished yet. Where the difference comes is in how much of an increase is needed and sustainable. Another easy observation? Education will be the key conversation at the Roundhouse, despite hot button additions like the “red flag” gun legislation Lujan Grisham proposed again Thursday in Las Cruces and the debate over legalizing recreational cannabis.

New report confirms NM early childhood workers paid poorly

If you’ve been following the efforts to build early childhood education in New Mexico over the past few years, a recently released report about a statewide needs assessment won’t hold a lot of surprises. There were the usual issues of low wages and high turnover, poor coordination among early childhood programs, lack of dependable funding and the need for higher-quality programs and greater access across every region of the state. 

The New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership, out of United Way of Santa Fe, is in charge of a planning process for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, with the mandate to complete a needs assessment and help put together a strategic plan for the new agency. It’s conducted a monthslong trek through the state to gather feedback. 

There were, however, a couple of interesting takeaways. NMID recently published a story on poor wages for early childhood workers and teachers, and a workforce survey produced for the partnership really put some meat on those bones. 

The survey reached 1,290 of New Mexico’s more than 5,000 early childhood workers. Source: New Mexico Early Childhood Development Partnership

One striking data point from the workforce survey is that a large number of high-level workers in early childhood education make less than $30,000 a year.

Low pay: A stumbling block for quality childcare

Michelle Masiwemai takes a selfie with some of the children she cared for at Best of the Southwest day care center in Las Cruces. Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children. 

“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter.

What is high quality childcare?

Valeria Holloway, owner of Best of the Southwest Day Care Center in Las Cruces, teaches preschool. She uses a curriculum that she learned in Virginia but is hoping to get a contract for New Mexico PreK. Don’t call her a babysitter. That’s a teenager who wants $50 and pizza to watch your children on date night. 

Valeria Holloway has taken care of children professionally for nearly 20 years. She started in the business, as many young mothers do, because the cost of child care was so high that it would have eaten up most of her salary, and she preferred to stay home with her new child.

New Yazzie court filings seek more action on education

The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education. 

Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.