First and foremost, the role of the public education system is to prepare students to be productive citizens through academic and vocational teaching and training.
I am committed to ensuring that every child in New Mexico receives a quality public education with schools that are safe, where qualified teachers are recruited, supported and retained and parents are welcomed as an integral part of the school system.
A well-educated population is essential if New Mexico and her citizens are to compete in the world economy. A strong education is the foundation for our children to create their future and be inspired to positively contribute to our communities. It is critical for each of us to understand our role in supporting the educational development of our children.
Campaign slogans and promises such as “an education second to none” and similar words are empty. New Mexico does not need another slogan. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and go to work and ensure every child has access to rich educational opportunities that will provide them with choice; the choice of attending college or entering the workforce.
New Mexico has 213 private schools with an enrollment of 25,298 students; we have a homeschool population estimated at about 10,000, and a charter school enrollment of 25,700 students. Parents understand that the current policies of the Public Education Department (PED) are failing our schools and their children and they are seeking alternatives to traditional public education.
We should be thankful for the outstanding array of school options providing families educational choices as well as the significant sacrifice parents make to fund private school education or home school their children. At the same time, we should be concerned about families that choose public schools. We will give them the highest educational opportunities possible for their children.
The centralized decision-making system has proven over and over incapable of responding effectively to the local needs of New Mexico communities, parents, teachers or students. Decisions must be made closer to the classrooms and communities that are directly affected by those decisions.
We have lived with the status quo; it is harmful for our state’s future and cannot be tolerated any longer. We cannot wait until tomorrow. Failure is not an option. The stakes are too high. Common sense and back-to-basics management will stabilize and bring steady improvement to our schools.
By shifting control back to our local communities and implementing common sense, time-tested processes and policies, we can create quality public schools for all students. Some policies can be implemented immediately while others will require more time and effort, but now is the time to outline a plan and get started.
Establish & Restore Trust with the Public Education Department
- The reforming of the public education system in New Mexico must be informed and led by New Mexican educators. By New Mexicans for New Mexicans.
- The state Public Education Department (PED) establishes and proactively communicates what the expectations are for our students and provides resources and support to districts and schools based on the local needs.
- State initiatives, policies and practices must reflect authentic input of the people working in the field. PED must get in front of, listen to, ask questions and incorporate feedback from those who serve our children daily.
- We will immediately suspend the current Teacher Evaluation System. We will seek input from New Mexico educators to create a system that is fair and meaningful. The revamped evaluation system should be simple and easy to understand.
- Using regional staff, possibly through the already established Regional Education Cooperatives, to provide specialized staff to support all public schools in a region. Areas of specialty available may include:
- Instructional support through modeling, coaching and mentoring for administrators and teachers;
- Operational support through budget and fiscal training; student data management
Regionally located PED staff would go to the districts instead of the districts always coming to the state.
Local Control and Leadership Development
- Decentralize operations by returning control of day to day management decisions to the local school districts and/or charter schools. From our urban and rural districts to our pueblo and border schools, each district and region is diverse and unique and should be directing how learning expectations are met.
- Training and support will be provided to support governing school boards in their role as educational leaders and drivers of reform in their regions. Our civic leaders serving on our school boards are critical to a district’s success and should know and understand basic education and management principles to successfully support and monitor the educational progress of their students.
- Fund operations equitably on a per pupil unit basis so that funding is adequate in all districts. We need to stop the practice of district superintendents jumping through hoops to get “below the line money.” The funding below the line should be available to all districts to provide resources and supports as they determine to meet the needs of their students.
- Build a pipeline to attract and retain strong administrators. Establish training and coaching to continue instructional leader development while adding a business operation component. Provide ample time for principals and superintendents to receive administrative training, support, and authentic internship opportunities prior to being assigned to a leadership position.
Let Teachers Teach
- Many of our teachers and schools are doing a superb job of providing quality learning opportunities for students. In my role as a Congressman, I have visited numerous classrooms. While many politicians tend to go for photo ops while reading to kids, I go and take questions from the students. You can learn far more by listening to their questions than by giving them pep talks or speeches. My visits have convinced me teachers can do the job.
- We need to remove barriers and let our teachers do what they are trained for and we will see immediate results. We ask our teachers to do things they are not trained for: behavior counseling, anger management, priests, pastors, policemen, etc. In doing so we take away valuable teaching time from the students who are there to learn. Basic discipline must be restored and chronically disruptive students removed and provided alternative opportunities so that a safe environment with a focus on learning is maintained.
- Deliver focused training to our new and alternatively licensed teachers so they can begin successfully teaching when they enter the classroom. Provide ongoing coaching to support them as they develop and hone their craft.
- Immediately suspend and redevelop the teacher evaluation system. We will bring teacher, parents, administrators, and other education advocates to the table to design an evaluation system that treats teachers fairly and respectfully, while creating accountability and measurable results.
- Recruit and retain qualified teaching staff. New Mexico is experiencing a teacher shortage crisis with many classrooms across the state staffed with long-term substitutes. This places an undue burden on the local teachers. We must work with our high schools and colleges to actively recruit students into the teaching profession and develop policies that encourage our current teachers to remain in the classroom.
- Give teachers voice by creating opportunities to provide genuine feedback to inform state policies and practices.
- Provide teachers with the resources and classroom supplies needed to do their job effectively and students have the materials they need for learning.
- Diversify funding sources to ensure stable funding streams to school districts and charter schools. About 35% of education funding comes from the oil and gas sector. A strong energy sector is vital for the state’s economy. However, we must diversify so our school budgets are not so dependent on one industry (oil and gas) that fluctuates beyond the control of New Mexico. Diversification must be achieved by attracting industry to our state, not just for funding schools but also to provide jobs for our educated workforce.
- Aging school facilities must be evaluated and prioritized on need. Construction should be funded on a need basis since some districts have much older buildings than others.
- Conduct independent operational audits of every department in every district to ensure state and federal dollars are directed where intended. If we are to deal with chronic shortages of funding and why teacher pay is low, we must get to the root cause of funding issues.
Apprenticeship Programs in High Schools
Not every student will attend college, nor should they. But their educational needs are just as important as the college bound student.
Our current practice of ignoring or minimally addressing the plight of those not headed to college will stop.
We will work to establish Apprenticeship Programs in every school district so that those students who do not intend to go to college will graduate with a diploma and a journeyman certificate which along with the experience gained while in the program will qualify them to get a job the day they graduate.
Giving students a purpose and a skill should be a requirement of every high school.
Choices for Parents and Students
- New Mexico should embrace all forms of education that give every family a choice in how to educate their child. Charter schools, magnet schools, e-schools and home schooling have a place in meeting the needs of some students.
- Encourage home school, private school and public school partnerships that allow students to participate in local education, sports and other extracurricular activities. Families pay taxes that support public education. All children should have access to these programs while local schools should receive the portion of funding needed to include these students.