HOBBS – The alarm rings at 3 a.m., and Ronell Mangilit is the first one up in a house shared with four fellow teachers. He prepares breakfast, writes up the day’s math lesson, and puts on a button-down shirt, a tie and crisply pressed slacks. Then it’s off to teach the children of New Mexican oil rig workers — arriving in his sixth-grade classroom by 7:20 sharp. It’s a job no American wanted, but one the 30-year-old Filipino was willing to pay thousands of dollars to get. Armed with a PhD in math education and a promise to a deceased brother, Mangilit borrowed the equivalent of a year’s salary in the Philippines — roughly $9,000.
Four recruiting agencies have sprung up in New Mexico. Each is run by a working teacher, a recently resigned PED employee, a district superintendent, or the close relative of a superintendent. Such close relationships to the school system give recruiters an edge in helping immigrant teachers navigate licensure and hiring protocol. But they also raise concerns about conflicts of interest and ethics violations. Total Teaching Solutions International (TTSI) is run by Janice Bickert, wife of Ruidoso Municipal Schools superintendent George Bickert.
Guest worker programs have long been shadowed by middlemen: the brokers, recruiters and labor contractors who serve as a bridge between workers abroad and employers in the U.S. While some charge a reasonable fee to deliver necessary services, exploitation is prevalent. Several court cases have taken down unscrupulous guest worker schemes. Among them:
In 2012, a federal jury awarded $4.5 million to Filipino teachers who paid a California placement agency up to $16,000 for $40,000-a-year teaching positions in Louisiana public schools. A jury found that the recruiter failed to properly disclose fees to 350 teachers. A 2011 settlement required the public school district in Maryland’s Prince George’s County to reimburse Filipino teachers $4 million, after a U.S. Labor Department investigation.
Editor’s note: This column is part of NMID’s weekly newsletter. Sign up here. I’ve always loved that analogy from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis that “states are the laboratories of democracy.” I like the notion that great ideas and different ways of doing things can bubble up from the bottom and change the way the world works. I was a young copy editor in San Jose, California, when a former roommate told me I should try this great new search engine, “Google,” to look for things on the internet. (OK, I can’t help myself.
A visitor heading down NM-128 to Jal would be forgiven for believing there were more people driving pickups and equipment trucks on the congested state highway than living in the small oil patch town of just over 2,100 people. Jal is an old ranching community — JAL was a brand used for the John A. Lynch herd, brought to the area by settlers in the 1800s — but today, oil is its economic engine. And that engine is humming. New Mexico’s most recent oil and gas boom has filled Heaven in a Cup, a retro burgers-and-shake shack off Main Street, with hungry oil field workers. Encampments of RVs and campers have sprung up around town and the economic resurgence has helped refuel the tiny town that sits just across the border from Texas.
Heleme Brinkerhoff, Sonoma Elementary’s first New Mexico PreK teacher, spent last Wednesday morning setting up her classroom, a project that’s taken about two weeks. There were the magnetic tiles and blocks to sort, a puppet theater to put up, and books, crayons, scissors and crafting materials to organize. A longtime Kindergarten teacher, Brinkerhoff said she loved little children and play-based learning, so she was excited for the chance to prepare 4-year-olds academically, socially and emotionally for their K through 12 educations. “It’s like my dreams came true,” she said. “I’m looking forward to taking it down a notch,” Brinkerhoff said.
The education community in Roswell is stepping up to ensure their children are ready to learn as they enter elementary school. In the process, they just may be creating a blueprint to early childhood expansion for rural areas throughout New Mexico.
School funding lawsuits are usually long legal slogs, but New Mexico’s timeline could be shortened by years. Late this morning, Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham was the first candidate for governor to say she would not continue a legal battle over whether the state is meeting its financial obligations to adequately educate children. And she called on current Gov. Susana Martinez to not appeal a landmark judicial decision against the state last week. “For too long, our education system has failed our children, educators, families and communities, drastically undermining our economy and our public safety while straining our overburdened social services. Today, I am calling on Governor Martinez to publicly commit to not appealing the landmark education lawsuit decision,” said Michelle Lujan Grisham.
A jovial crowd shaded by large trees and within sight of an Albuquerque public school gathered Monday to celebrate a court ruling that many were hailing as vindication of what they had been saying for years. On Friday, State District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled New Mexico guilty of shirking its constitutional duty to adequately educate at-risk students. The ruling, which represented a sound defeat for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her Public Education Department, is not the last word. The agency said late Monday it will appeal. “Unfortunately, the judge missed the boat with this ruling,” Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said, adding that the state has invested in programs that “have been proven to improve student success.”
But the possibility of an appeal earlier in the day wasn’t about to puncture Monday’s celebratory mood.
Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara has one big request for her partners in a new effort to tackle childhood trauma in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County: Ask every person they serve or interact with how many Adverse Childhood Experiences they’ve had. Gandara and a group of behavioral health providers, educators, community activists and health professionals hope to use that data to create a systemic approach to reducing childhood trauma, with the aim of combating child abuse in the community and improving children’s health, education and lives. Gandara was inspired for the project by the book “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-Driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” which was based on the work of Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello at the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department’s Protective Service Division. It chronicles the life and death of a child at her mother’s hands, while making the case that the smart use of data and community involvement can prevent childhood trauma. Gandara, who ended a 28 year social-work career as a CYFD county office manager, wants to use the solutions outlined in the book as a framework for Las Cruces to move awareness of ACEs beyond child advocates and emergency responders and into the general public so that they can help their community and families heal.