BY ROXANNE MITCHELL, ALYSHA WAGLEY AND SAMANTHA NELSON / N.M. TEACHERS AND CO-FOUNDERS, EDUCATORS ELEVATING NEW MEXICO
Sunday, September 1, 2019 at 12:02am
As dedicated teachers in New Mexico’s rural communities, we’ve often been discouraged by politicians wildly swinging the education pendulum at our students’ expense. Talk to other teachers with over 10 years of experience and they will tell stories of oft-switched policies that don’t fully consider the impact on classrooms.
This time around, we as teacher leaders begged for a smooth transition between administrations.
The past nine months have been the most unstable of our careers.
The uneasy feeling started in 2018 with then-Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski attempting to reassure us at various teacher leadership meetings across the state. He shared that the new administration, whomever they were, would inherit a $1 billion surplus, the nation’s top-rated state plan and a strong team. He outlined how New Mexico had drawn on input from thousands of diverse stakeholders, empirical research and the best ideas from both parties over the past two decades, while also seeding forward-looking innovative programs.
We also learned that both gubernatorial candidates had voted for President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act, and how New Mexico’s Legislative Finance and Education Committees had consistently built a stronger education system over the past three decades. Further, we heard from several state leaders that the Yazzie/Martinez ruling required the state’s collective leadership to move education forward, not revert backward.
Later we heard that Ruszkowski’s leadership team, mostly Democrats, had spent countless hours with the new governor’s transition team – explaining the momentum that districts like ours and many others were achieving with students.
A smooth transition seemed possible.
However, disarray ensued. By the fourth day of January, our governor had publicly declared that “everything must go” without any plan to replace systems that guide instruction and create accountability. There was no new secretary appointed until late January. Then, the new “Dream Team” at the Public Education Department spent several months hastily compiling amendments to our top-rated state plan that could aptly be called “everything must go, part two.”
Now, some of those leaders are gone, too.
Back home in our rural schools, the policies and programs that worked for our students were being dismantled – or so we were told. Most of them are still partially here. New proposals remain incomplete and unclear as another school year begins.
The educator pay raise was important – and we are deeply thankful to our taxpayers and elected leaders for it. We are reflective practitioners who work hard to improve our students’ learning, constantly on a quest to achieve objective, measurable and immeasurable results.
But now it’s August. And right now we have no idea how our students, our teaching, or our school will be assessed. There is a cloud of uncertainty over everything.
And it’s not just us that feel this way. Here are some questions we’ve been asked by our students, families and colleagues:
“Do I still need to pass an assessment in reading and math to graduate high school? Which one?”
“Are we no longer assessing ninth-graders annually?”
“Is the SAT/ACT a culturally relevant assessment?”
“Will schools excelling and growing be celebrated?”
“Will chronically failing schools still be identified and asked to change?”
“Will we all have to come to school in the summer?”
So far, there are no solid answers to these questions.
Perhaps now, there is hope again. We welcome Secretary-designate Ryan Stewart to New Mexico and implore him to please hit pause on the system upheavals in progress. Instead, spend six months traveling the state and listening to stories of progress, approaching our state from an asset-based perspective. Collaborate with educators and communities representing ALL 89 districts and ALL 90-plus charter schools.
New Mexico cannot afford another wild pendulum swing; it will take courageous leadership to prevent it. We must instead build upon bipartisan decades of progress, invest in teachers and student services, build community schools, and maintain high expectations and transparent academic accountability for all. This is the path forward for our kids.
Roxanne Mitchell teaches elementary school in Clovis, Alysha Wagley teaches high school in Animas and Samantha Nelson teaches elementary school in Farmington.