Summit takes stock of education gains, goals for Doña Ana County

It’s been five years since the Success Partnership convened its first summit to create goals for “cradle to career” education in Doña Ana County. A lot has changed since then. Ngage New Mexico, an education-focused community organization that created the Success Partnership and organized a follow up summit Monday at New Mexico State University, wanted to put the changes in perspective with a comprehensive look at education data over that period from home visiting and preK to college and workforce training. Since 2015, Las Cruces Public Schools started its first community school to bring social services and after school programs to students and on Saturday the district will inaugurate three more. Graduation rates jumped at two of the county’s school districts, from 75% in 2015 to 86% in 2019 at LCPS, and 67% to 77% at Hatch Valley Schools, while inching up at Gadsden from 81% to 82%. 

The all-day gathering was part pep rally to celebrate successes, part tough talk about bumps in the road to better education results and part brainstorming session to chart the course ahead.  

Lori Martinez, executive director of Ngage NM, an education nonprofit based in Las Cruces.

Lawmakers: Budget excludes rural, tribal voices in education

Bernalyn Via of the Mescalero Apache tribe visited the Roundhouse on Fb. 10 to lobby lawmakers. Photo credit / Trip Jennings

As the annual legislative session races to an end Thursday, think of the New Mexico Legislature as an industrial-strength strainer. Only a portion of bills will pass through. But some lawmakers are saying too many bills being filtered out come from communities that are home to students identified in the landmark Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit as shortchanged in the state’s public schools.The House of Representatives and Senate may be wrangling over last-minute changes to the state budget, but raging behind the scenes is a debate over whether the spending plan is responding to the court order that demands New Mexico educate its at-risk students better.

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.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales

Lt. governor’s next education frontier: out-of-school-time learning

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales visits Las Cruces on a recent October morning to talk about his after-school learning initiative. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales was running late to an interview at the IHOP in Las Cruces. 

His job these days puts him on the road a lot, but he still likes to drop his kids off at school in Silver City. That connection is something the former coach, special education teacher and state senator wants to keep with education in general. 

“Education is always going to be at the heart of what I do because that’s why I got into public service,” he said on a recent October morning during a visit to Las Cruces, where he talked up a summit planned for Tuesday in Albuquerque on after-school and out-of-school time activities that would strengthen kids’ connections to school and provide more learning opportunities. As a senator, Morales got involved in the full spectrum of education, from preschool to higher education. He credited early educators in Grant County for making him understand a successful higher education system started with strong early education such as home visiting and preschool.

Lujan Grisham ouster of Trujillo raises questions

Karen Trujillo, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s pick for secretary of public education, speaks during a news conference Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Santa Fe. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s decision to fire Education Secretary Karen Trujillo on Monday took a lot of people in New Mexico by surprise, including Trujillo, who said she was blindsided. 

It’s been three days, and some New Mexicans suspect they haven’t been given the real reason Trujillo was fired and why now. 

The administration has said it was about her ability to communicate, manage and meet the governor’s expectations for transforming public education in New Mexico. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

A spokesman initially pointed to the shaky rollout of a signature education program called K-5 Plus across the state, but the administration is beginning to walk back an effort to pin the firing on implementation of that program. Trujillo had pushed back, saying she didn’t get much direction from the governor and that she had raised alarm early on about how difficult K-5 Plus would be to implement immediately, as designed by the Legislature. 

And Trujillo said if communication was deficient, it was on the part of the governor. 

“It would have been nice to have a conversation with the governor where she said what her concerns were so that I could have done something about them, but that conversation never took place,” Trujillo said. Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s director of communications, said Trujillo heard from top administration officials from the governor’s office, including Lujan Grisham herself, about the governor’s frustration with her communications skills and leadership at the Public Education Department — and that Trujillo’s pushback comes from someone “with an axe to grind.”

 “This was not infrequent communication.

Lawmakers drill down on response to education lawsuit

Lawmakers got a status report of sorts on New Mexico’s response to a landmark education court decision last year when members of the Legislative Education Study Committee met Wednesday in Santa Teresa. After a day of hearing from rural superintendents, the Transform Education NM coalition that formed after the lawsuit, and deputies from the Public Education Department about progress made toward resolving the state’s failures in educating at-risk children, it’s clear there are still a lot of questions.  

Much of the discussion centered on implementation of new laws and how additional money lawmakers appropriated this year is being spent. Committee members generally were happy with teacher raises, but had pointed questions about the roll out of extended learning time programs, the way some districts handled raises and how money was being spent. 

“Let’s talk about the students first. We’ve increased funding for at-risk, ELLs, special ed. That’s trickling down to the districts and I hope it’s something positive,” said Rep. Raymundo Lara of Chamberino, whose district includes the Gadsden schools where the meeting was held.

Lawmakers point state to new educational future

Young children listen to a teacher as part of the summer K-3 Plus program. It was a good year for education. Whether it was great depended on who you asked. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and legislative leaders, both Democratic and Republican, extoled investments New Mexico made in education Saturday as the 60-day session came to a close. “This is a Legislature that delivered a moonshot,” the governor nearly shouted during a post-session press conference in her Cabinet Room on the fourth floor of the Roundhouse.

Multicultural education framework advances

Celina Corral, right, with the Empowerment Congress , teaches a class on cultural diversity at Lynn Middle School, Wednesday on Dec. 5, 2018. The Empowerment Congress is one of Lynn’s community partners. A bill that would put New Mexico children’s heritage and culture at the center of education is racing to the finish line along with the 2019 legislative session. Co-sponsored by Rep. Tomas Salazar, HB 159 would set up a parallel structure in the Public Education Department to support the Bilingual Multicultural Education, Indian Education and Hispanic Education acts.