What new education secretary should know about New Mexico

Newly appointed Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, left, visits the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque with the school’s founder, Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff, on Aug. 13. (Public Education Department via Twitter)

If classroom teachers and education advocates could sit down with new Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, they would tell him to just listen. That’s the consistent message from two teachers at Las Cruces Public Schools – one who has taught for seven years, and another for 30 years, and two leaders of education nonprofits — one a member of the Transform Education New Mexico coalition of that formed out of the Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit, and another a former director of outreach in the Martinez administration’s Public Education Department. Stewart, who is African American, and was the regional director of a nonprofit that works to improve education for low-income and minority students, takes the helm weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired Karen Trujillo from the post after just six months on the job.

Planning for Early Education agency underway

There is still no secretary of Early Childhood Education and Care, but the process to launch New Mexico’s newest department is up and running with help from a $5.4 million federal preschool grant. That’s what lawmakers heard Thursday at a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee. “We joke that the stars aligned when this grant came about,” said Alejandra Rebolledo Rea, director of Early Childhood Services for the Children Youth and Families Department. The one-year planning grant is meant to create a comprehensive early education plan for New Mexico children from birth to age 5. When it was approved by the federal government in March, talk immediately turned to the idea of using the grant for the new early childhood department being debated in the Legislature.

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.

Education comes to a head in 2019: Will lawmakers pass the test?

 

As the legislative session commences, public education is Issue No. 1 during the next 60 days in Santa Fe.And hanging over the debate about teachers’ salaries and envisioning schools for the 21st century will be state District Court Judge Sarah Singleton’s ruling that New Mexico has violated the state Constitution for not adequately educating at-risk students. New Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke about rising to the challenge days after her victory with Kennedyesque imagery. “We have an opportunity to do a moonshot in education.  That has never occurred before” she told a national TV audience on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

But it’s unclear how Lujan Grisham and the Democratically controlled Legislature will respond to Singleton’s gauntlet. Even with a $1 billion surplus, top lawmakers are saying there may not be enough to satisfy every education need this year. Lujan Grisham suggested the same in mid-December, as she listed a litany of needs her administration is inheriting from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration.

Reviewing governor candidates’ stances on education

 

The countdown to Election Day has begun. With less than a week to go, nearly a quarter of New Mexico’s registered voters have already cast ballots. But that still leaves the vast majority of voters with decisions to make. For voters who place a high importance on education — and a September Albuquerque Journal poll found nearly seven in 10 New Mexicans consider the quality of public school education a “very serious” problem — New Mexico In Depth rounded our previous coverage about Republican Steve Pearce and Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham’s stances on education, as well as other outlets’ coverage to see if they expanded on or modified their views on the state’s education problems as their campaigns have progressed. Early childhood education
This area in the one where the two candidates have shown the starkest differences.

Energy in field for early childhood education in NM

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.

Education committees hear budget proposals, including potential teacher pay raise

There is only a $400,000 difference between what the governor’s office and the Legislature’s budget arm are requesting for the main category of public school funding (that’s the State Equalization Guarantee, or SEG funding, for you education wonks), but there are some interesting departures in the details. 

If you are a teacher, you are going to be really interested in those differences. Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski and analysts from the Legislative Finance Committee and the Public Education Department came before a joint meeting of the Senate and House Education committees on Friday to detail their budget proposals for fiscal 2019. For teachers just starting out or who just reached a new teacher level, there could be a $2,000 salary bump in your future if the LFC gets its way, plus a 1.5 percent cost of living salary increase. If the PED plan prevails in negotiations, all teachers will receive a 2 percent across the board salary increase, with other school personnel receiving a 1 percent cost of living increase. Then, exemplary teachers would be up for a one-time $5,000 bonus and exemplary high school math or science teachers would be eligible for up to $10,000.

Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski

State, advocacy groups make their final cases in PED lawsuit

Students in New Mexico are nowhere near prepared to go to college, join the workforce or engage in our democracy, according to closing arguments filed this week by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and MALDEF, in a lawsuit against the state. The groups, representing families and school districts,  say the state Public Education Department isn’t providing the resources needed to properly educate its students, in violation of the state Constitution. “The problem is that for years the state has starved our public schools and denied our children the educational supports and programs and services they need so that they can learn and thrive,” said Gail Evans, legal director for the Center, who said she expects a decision from District Court Judge Sarah Singleton by the spring. Lawyers for the state PED agree that New Mexico schools need to improve and concede the job of the schools is to make students college and career ready. But that’s about all they agree on.