Stop hag­gling on schools, PED tells APS

District must agree to state’s plans for fix­ing two el­e­men­taries


The Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment re­it­er­ated on Tues­day that Al­bu­querque Pub­lic Schools must fully ac­cept its next steps for the district’s worst-per­form­ing schools, or it faces los­ing con­trol over them.

The agency sent two let­ters to Su­per­in­ten­dent Raquel Reedy say­ing that for APS to main­tain author­ity over Los Padil­las and Whit­tier ele­men­tary schools and move for­ward with over­haul­ing them, it has to fully com­mit to state-ap­proved plans by Fri­day. A fi­nal plan for Hawthorne Ele­men­tary is ex­pected later this week.

PED des­ig­nated all three ele­men­tary schools as be­ing in need of “more rig­or­ous in­ter­ven­tion,” or MRI schools, be­cause they re­ceived five or six F an­nual school grades in a row.

Since the MRI des­ig­na­tions were made late last year, APS and PED have gone back and forth on re­struc­tur­ing plans in­tended to im­prove the schools.

PED re­jected the district’s orig­i­nal plans but con­di­tion­ally ap­proved its re­sub­mis­sion on April 27 while seek­ing APS’ full com­mit­ment to PED-man­dated con­di­tions.

And while APS ac­cepted PED’s re­sponse ear­lier this month, the district in­cluded terms of its own. It in­cluded a caveat that would al­low the district to stop or change im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan if needed.

But PED Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Christo­pher Ruszkowski told the Jour­nal on Tues­day, “APS in­ap­pro­pri­ately re­sponded to the April 27 let­ters as if they weren’t fi­nal.”

He and the agency made it clear in Tues­day’s let­ters that

APS can­not get the $2 mil­lion al­lot­ted for each school to im­ple­ment re­struc­tur­ing or be ap­proved to move for­ward un­less the district ac­cepts PED’s plans com­pletely, with­out ad­di­tional terms.

“Dis­tricts that un­der­serve stu­dents for more than five years straight re­quire fur­ther con­di­tions, over­sight, and con­se­quences. This is com­mon sense,” PED’s let­ter said.

APS has un­til Fri­day to re­spond.

In an email sent to the Jour­nal on Tues­day, APS spokes­woman Jo­hanna King said, “The district is re­view­ing the let­ters sent … from the Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment con­cern­ing Los Padil­las and Whit­tier ele­men­tary schools. My un­der­stand­ing is that we have un­til Fri­day to re­spond, at which time we will be in a bet­ter po­si­tion to com­ment. We are look­ing for­ward to fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion with PED.”

At an emo­tional APS Board of Ed­u­ca­tion meet­ing ear­lier this month, board and com­mu­nity mem­bers ral­lied for the schools.

At the time, Reedy said she was “dis­il­lu­sioned” by PED’s April de­ci­sions and said she had asked Ruszkowski to visit the schools and col­lab­o­rate with APS, but that didn’t hap­pen.

Par­ents also took to the lectern at the board meet­ing, ques­tion­ing the va­lid­ity of PED’s school grad­ing sys­tem and shar­ing the im­por­tance each school plays in the com­mu­nity.

Demo­cratic state Sen. Mimi Ste­wart of Al­bu­querque spoke, too, say­ing she ques­tioned whether the PED’s author­ity al­lows for the ac­tions the de­part­ment has taken on the MRI schools.

She said she thinks the de­part­ment has “wildly mis­in­ter­preted ESSA (Ev­ery Stu­dent Suc­ceeds Act).”

The sen­a­tor, who lives five houses away from Hawthorne, said she is go­ing to fight to keep the school open.

Board Pres­i­dent David Peercy said at the meet­ing that tak­ing le­gal ac­tion “is in our back pocket.” But the board will first re­view the PED’s re­sponse.

In Tues­day’s let­ters, the PED did ac­cept and ap­ply some terms APS pro­posed for its MRI plan.

For in­stance, the district asked for more time to move for­ward with some of the agency’s re­quire­ments, which will now be in­cor­po­rated into the plan. And APS ad­dressed the PED’s con­di­tion from last month that stip­u­lates a prin­ci­pal and as­sis­tant prin­ci­pal will be re­moved from the schools if their stu­dents do not show a cer­tain amount of progress by bench­mark dates.

APS pointed out that the cur­rent prin­ci­pals, who re­placed the pre­vi­ous prin­ci­pals ear­lier this year, have mul­ti­year con­tracts and said any changes “will be done in ac­cor­dance with the prin­ci­pal eval­u­a­tion sys­tem re­quired by the PED,” which the de­part­ment also ac­cepted.

And the PED agreed to mod­ify the type of teach­ers that must be at the schools.

The PED had pre­vi­ously re­quired all of Los Padil­las’ and Whit­tier’s teach­ers be rated highly ef­fec­tive or ex­em­plary. But Tues­day’s let­ter al­lows for ef­fec­tive or bet­ter, as de­ter­mined by the state teacher eval­u­a­tion sys­tem.

“How­ever, APS is ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for the im­ple­men­ta­tion of each item,” PED said in its let­ters.

Ruszkowski told the Jour­nal that APS will not get an­other chance to al­ter the plans. He said the district must fully ac­cept the plans and com­mit to putting them into ef­fect or the PED will se­lect other op­tions, which could re­sult in clo­sures.

Hawthorne Ele­men­tary School was also la­beled as an MRI school, but the PED re­jected APS plans to re­struc­ture and re­design that school.

Hawthorne was in­stead re­quired to “cham­pion and pro­vide choice” — mean­ing the school out­lines all ex­ist­ing school­ing op­tions for par­ents, makes sure par­ents are in­formed of higher-per­form­ing schools their chil­dren may at­tend in the area and helps trans­fer stu­dents, if needed.

APS ac­knowl­edged the PED’s de­ci­sion on Hawthorne ear­lier this month but also out­lined its in­ten­tions to re­design the school while still com­ply­ing with the cham­pion and pro­vide choice man­date.

The PED is ex­pected to pro­vide more in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing Hawthorne later this week.

Dulce Ele­men­tary School — an­other MRI school, in north­ern New Mex­ico — is await­ing a re­sponse from PED on its re­struc­tur­ing plans, which is also ex­pected to come this week.

The APS and Dulce dis­tricts were of­fered four op­tions when in­formed of their schools’ MRI des­ig­na­tions: close the school, restart as a char­ter school, cham­pion and pro­vide choice, or re­struc­ture and re­design.

Both dis­tricts had cho­sen re­struc­ture and re­design for their schools.

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