‘This is our breakthrough year’
Superintendent confident in student improvement despite failing schools, faltering test scores
Veronica García said she’ll eat her hat if the school district doesn’t make great gains this school year.
“I am convinced that this is
our breakthrough year,” the Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent said during an annual address at a lunchtime gathering Thursday that drew more than 200 people to the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
García then joked she might have to find someone who can make her an edible hat.
It was a telling and unexpected vignette in the middle of the State of the Schools presentation, which can sometimes be as notable for the student-driven music and adult-fostered cheerleading as it is for any single point a superintendent is trying to make.
But García, coming off a rougher-thanusual summer, seemed determined to exhibit confidence, along with a slogan culled from the district’s strategic plan: Remarkable Happens Every Day.
In August, the district learned 56 percent of its 30 schools received D’s or F’s in the state’s oft-maligned A-F school grading system, leading Public Education Secretarydesignate Christopher Ruszkowski to call Santa Fe a “district in crisis” and say that when a district is in such turmoil, “You have to look at the superintendent.”
García, herself a former Public Education Department secretary, fired back immediately, calling his remarks “irresponsible” and
suggesting Ruszkowski was playing politics.
Shortly after that news, school board President Steven Carrillo and García engaged in a testy public exchange in August. He told her he’d like to see more public accountability for the district during school board meetings, and she in turn suggested the school board not pull her into controversial issues that take energy away from the focus on students.
They seemed amicable Thursday when Carrillo introduced García as “one of the best superintendents in the West.”
García outlined the district’s struggles with proficiency and graduation rates but steadfastly maintained a positive backbeat, which she delivered in a sometimes humorous and engaging tone without relying on notes. Her bottom line: The district has been initiating new programs that should deliver increased student proficiency rates by next summer.
“What we’ve done in terms of implementing standard-based instruction, professional development for teachers and the purchase of new instructional material — all of that is making a difference and should pay off this year,” García said in a follow-up interview.
She played up the school board’s approval of an update to the district’s five-year strategic plan, which she said will focus on improving student achievement and graduation rates, help keep schools safe, recruit and retain teachers and ensure that the district’s technological plan grows.
District leaders, García added, are committed to ensuring that high school graduates leave not only with a diploma, but with strong critical thinking skills, a sense of civic
responsibility, a talent for computer literacy and proof that they are academically proficient.
García drew applause and cheers when she said the state should find a way to start paying starting teachers at $45,000 a year rather than the starting pay of $34,000 they receive. And she praised the 1,900-plus employees of the district for devoting their energy and love to the students, a large majority of whom come from impoverished families.
The school board hired García in the summer of 2016 as a temporary replacement for former Superintendent Joel Boyd, who left the district after four years. Though García was expected to serve for up to a year while the board conducted a search for a permanent leader, the board hired García on a permanent basis. Earlier this year, the board extended that contract to June 2020 with a 2.5 percent salary increase to $184,500 a year from $180,000 a year.
For the most part, García seems popular with educators who have praised her tone, manner and sense of balance.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from Ramirez Thomas Elementary School perform a song and dance Thursday to close the State of the Schools address at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
ABOVE: Senior Taj Savariau, right, plays a saxophone with the Mandela International Magnet School world ensemble to open the State of the Schools address Thursday at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
LEFT: Public schools Superintendent Veronica García outlined the district’s struggles with proficiency and graduation rates but steadfastly maintained a positive outlook Thursday in her State of the Schools address. García, coming off a rougher-than-usual summer, seemed determined to exhibit confidence, along with a slogan culled from the district’s strategic plan: Remarkable Happens Every Day.