Los Alamos School Board Outlines Concerns in Letter to New Mexico Education Secretary

on December 16, 2013 - 10:58am
on December 16, 2013 - 10:58am
School Board President Jim Hall and Vice-President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie listen as Superintendent Gene Schmidt presents to the Board the final version of the District's letter to the Secretary of Education. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
 
Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard expresses support for the letter the Los Alamos School Board is sending to the Secretary of Education outlining concerns about the department's policies. Photo by Bonnie J Gordon/ladailypost.com
 
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post

The Los Alamos School Board sent a letter to New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera Dec. 13, sharing the Los Alamos School District’s perspectives on the Public Education Department’s (PED) recent initiatives and asking permission to implement some one-year modifications to the new teacher evaluation system.

Board President Jim Hall, Vice-President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie and Superintendent Gene Schmidt intend to meet with Skandera Dec. 20 to discuss the letter’s contents. The letter is the culmination of a process that began at the Oct. 8 School Board meeting, when a large number of teachers shared their frustration with the evaluation system and other concerns with the Board.

The Board mandated Schmidt and District staff to put together a Committee on Teacher Concerns and to talk with school principals about the impact of the evaluation system and other District and state mandated regulations and initiatives that impact teacher’s time and ability to provide the best possible education for their students.

More than 40 teachers participated in the Committee and in drafting the resulting letter to Skandera.The District also conducted a staff survey in which 77 percent of respondents stated the new teacher evaluation system was their greatest stress inducer for the year. 

The District’s teachers were polled on their support for the letter and 96.6 percent of the 66 percent of teachers who responded expressed support for its contents. The letter was presented to the School Board and unanimously approved in its final form at the Dec.10. School Board meeting. The letter points to the international reputation of Los Alamos Public Schools (LAPS) as a top quality school system and points to the high achievement ratings of District teachers and students.

The new initiatives mandated by PED this year are worthwhile, but the “all at once” approach is proving disruptive to the district’s primary mission: educating students, according to the letter, and a more graduated approach would improve the success of these programs and gain broader acceptance from all stakeholders.

The letter also states: “There is a broad perception by those in the district’s ‘front lines’ that paperwork is replacing people work and interfering with instructional time and student success. In addition, our staff’s proven successful best practices have been negatively impacted by the time and effort associated in meeting the highly specific requirements of NMPED initiatives. Unfortunately, the impact of implementing the new evaluation system, coupled with software problems and delayed delivery of key components such as end-of-course exams, has eroded teacher morale and generated resentment of needed improvements. In addition, our implementation of Common Core curricula and other worthwhile initiatives are being marginalized.”

LAPS requested the following from PED in its letter:

  • Granting LAPS permission to revise its original NM Teach observation format with the one that is attached to this letter;
  • Granting LAPS permission to use district developed assessments that are benchmarked and aligned in place of NMPED End-of-Course exams;
  • Allowing LAPS flexibility to schedule observation sessions to allow strong, targeted professional development where needed;
  • Allowing well-documented modifications to rubrics for Domains One and Four based on teacher and administrator recommendations;
  • Allowing substantial lesson plan flexibility this year;
  • Meeting with representatives of LAPS teachers, administrators, and Board members to discuss implementation of the value added model and address how this model may best contribute to the quality of instruction;
  • Providing examples for sections of Teachscape identified as optional;
  • Providing research-based lesson plan examples that can serve to quantify teaching progress consistent with the new evaluation system; and
  • Providing sufficient time and resources for local professional development to adequately train on initiatives such as the unpacking of Common Core, the roll out of Teachscape, strategies in lesson plan writing, and improved research-based instructional methodologies that lead to improved quality of instruction as identified by the Domains 1-4 of teacher observation rubric.

Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard was present at the Dec. 10 school board meeting and expressed support for the letter and for Los Alamos teachers.

“People take notice when Los Alamos makes a statement,” Richard said. “This is a powerful statement that you are about to make and I’m here to offer my support.”

Los Alamos American Federation of Teachers President Ellen Mills said, “I’m glad to see this happening ... I’m hopeful the letter will be read and considered.”

 

 
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