PED’s teacher ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee crit­i­cized

Ed­u­ca­tion chief: Union should not ‘be­smirch’ teach­ers in the group

Albuquerque Journal - - NEW MEXICO - BY KIM BURGESS JOUR­NAL STAFF WRITER

The New Mex­ico Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment has launched its se­cond year of the Sec­re­tary’s Teacher Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, a group of ed­u­ca­tors from across the state who work di­rectly with top of­fi­cials.

For­mer PED Sec­re­tary Hanna Skan­dera cre­ated the ad­vi­sory and sev­eral other groups to con­nect more di­rectly with teach­ers af­ter be­ing crit­i­cized for not do­ing so ear­lier. The first group pro­vided in­put on a va­ri­ety of ini­tia­tives, in­clud­ing com­mu­nity meet­ings, teacher re­sources and an an­nual New Mex­ico Teacher Sum­mit.

But some are ques­tion­ing whether the com­mit­tee is truly rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Sen. Mimi Ste­wart, Leg­isla­tive Ed­u­ca­tion Study Com­mit­tee chair­woman, said she does not be­lieve the ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee is a real grass­roots group be­cause PED is “pick­ing and choos­ing” who can join.

The Al­bu­querque Demo­crat, and out­spo­ken critic of PED, said she has also heard that the depart­ment is ask­ing ad­vi­sory mem­bers to at­tend school board and leg­isla­tive meet­ings to ad­vo­cate for the state’s ed­u­ca­tion poli­cies.

“I’m hop­ing that I can hear more from them other than pro­mot­ing the PED re­forms,” Ste­wart said. “I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to that. I hope it hap­pens.”

She has been joined in her crit­i­cism by union lead­ers, who have also claimed PED only se­lected teach­ers who sup­port state ini­tia­tives.

That’s a po­si­tion blasted by PED Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Christo­pher Ruszkowski, who ques­tions why union lead­ers are “choos­ing to be­smirch” teach­ers who serve on the com­mit­tee.

Pa­tri­cia Martinez, a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion K-5 head teacher at Kirt­land Ele­men­tary in Al­bu­querque, is a mem­ber of this year’s com­mit­tee.

She dis­agreed with the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion that PED is push­ing the ad­vi­sory mem­bers to become spokes­peo­ple for the state and said PED is “pro­mot­ing open com­mu­ni­ca­tion” be­tween depart­ment of­fi­cials and the teacher com­mu­nity.

“The PED knows it needs to do a bet­ter job com­mu­ni­cat­ing with teach­ers,” she said.

Martinez wanted to join the com­mit­tee to “be proac­tive” and help im­prove ed­u­ca­tion across the state.

“I’m ex­cited,” she said. “It’s easy to com­plain. I’m tired of that. I was one of those peo­ple — I could tell you ev­ery­thing I didn’t like.”

Rig­or­ous se­lec­tion process

PED chose 26 teach­ers for the cur­rent co­hort — roughly 10 per­cent of the ap­pli­cant pool — af­ter a rig­or­ous se­lec­tion process, in­clud­ing a sur­vey and video in­ter­view.

The teach­ers’ over­all eval­u­a­tion scores were also a fac­tor.

PED is spend­ing $18,000 to or­ga­nize the cur­rent co­hort.

The group held its first meet­ing with Ruszkowski in mid-Au­gust.

Be­fore re­sign­ing in June, Skan­dera told the Jour­nal that she re­grets not com­mu­ni­cat­ing di­rectly with teach­ers sooner.

Skan­dera said she used to think she could talk to su­per­in­ten­dents and ex­pect them to pass on her mes­sages to teach­ers, who would then speak to par­ents.

“It was the worst game of tele­phone,” Skan­dera said.

PED cre­ated a num­ber of groups to reach teach­ers di­rectly, in­clud­ing the Sec­re­tary’s Teacher Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, the New Mex­ico Teacher Leader Net­work, New Mex­ico Lit­er­acy Dream Team and teacher li­aisons.

Last year, the New Mex­ico Teach Plus Fel­lows, a group of 15 ed­u­ca­tors from around the state, made sug­ges­tions that led to sig­nif­i­cant changes in the teacher eval­u­a­tion sys­tem, in­clud­ing a re­duc­tion in the weight of stu­dent test scores.

PED said it did not se­lect teach­ers based on their sup­port for state pro­grams and did not know how many were mem­bers of a union.

Ken Strawn, a Las Cruces fourth-grade teacher, serves on the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion of New Mex­ico board of di­rec­tors and was se­lected to be on the Teacher Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee’s first co­hort.

He said he felt the meet­ings be­came po­lit­i­cal over time.

Still, Strawn said it was worth­while to par­tic­i­pate be­cause he got to know top PED of­fi­cials on a first-name ba­sis.

Strawn rec­om­mended that PED ask su­per­in­ten­dents to se­lect the ad­vi­sory group mem­bers to demon­strate the group’s in­de­pen­dence.

Ruszkowski said PED co­or­di­nates with su­per­in­ten­dents on many pro­grams, and he is happy with the se­lec­tion process.

Open to dis­sent

NEA of New Mex­ico spokesman Charles Good­macher said he be­lieves ad­vi­sory group mem­bers are well-in­ten­tioned, but he said PED is high­light­ing them to cre­ate a false sense of sup­port for its poli­cies.

“It is the pres­sure brought by our unions, leg­is­la­tors and com­mu­nity al­lies which, ac­cord­ing to PED Sec­re­tary Skan­dera her­self, gave rise to these groups as a coun­ter­weight to the ma­jor­ity of ed­u­ca­tors,” he said.

Ruszkowski said Good­macher’s state­ment doesn’t “de­serve the ink on the pa­per it’s printed on” and called for him to apol­o­gize to the ad­vi­sory mem­bers.

“I am hon­estly sit­ting here won­der­ing what has it come to that there is op­por­tu­nity af­ter op­por­tu­nity af­ter op­por­tu­nity to come to the ta­ble with ideas and so­lu­tions about how to im­prove stu­dent out­comes and stu­dent achieve­ment,” he said. “In­stead, they (NEA) are choos­ing to be­smirch a group of 26 class­room teach­ers from across the state.”

Good­macher, in turn, said PED is dis­count­ing the unions, which pro­vide a plat­form for many teach­ers to ex­press their opin­ions. Roughly half of the state’s teach­ers be­long to a union.

The other Al­bu­querque mem­ber of the Sec­re­tary’s Teach­ers Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, Jacob Kolan­der, who teaches English at South Val­ley Academy, said PED was open to dis­sent dur­ing the first 2017-2018 co­hort meet­ing last month.

“We have been able to ex­press con­tra­dic­tory view­points,” he said.

Sen. Mimi Ste­wart

Christo­pher Ruszkowski

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