New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera visited Clovis on Wednesday to talk to teachers and administrators. Skandera is traveling the state meeting with teachers and gathering feedback as part of an ongoing outreach program.
The CNJ asked several questions:
Why is it important for you to meet with teachers and administrators in person?
When I think about the opportunity to have a great conversation and hear teachers thoughts and what’s important to them, it helps inform policy. Just within the last couple of months we had a new assessment called the PARCC, that our students took, and right after we did a survey. And one of the requests of our educators was “can we have not two testing windows, but one?” We were able to do that because we heard from the field and we advocated for that and accomplished that, so the more we hear the more we are able to think about what’s best and try and make changes.
Does the department weigh that feedback heavily looking forward?
That was, I would say, the biggest part of our conversation today with teachers here in Clovis — how do we communicate better, get good information in your hands, and hear from you?
I’ll be working really hard to reach out all across our state and meet with teachers, I’ve done some of that, but you could say I’m pretty committed to a teacher tour and talking with teachers in our communities and hearing from them and brainstorming solutions and ideas. I got some good ones today.
What are some of the positive trends and successes that you are seeing in public education in the state?
About two months ago a report came out called Diploma Counts — it’s a national report, and New Mexico was ranked third in the nation for our improvements in a two-year period and our graduation rates. So that’s awesome. We’ve not been at the top of national rankings very often, and this is…huge kudos to our superintendents, principals, teachers, and our students just really rising to the challenge. We are definitely expecting more and more in our classrooms, and I think our students and our teachers are really responding to that.
Do you have a message to teachers who are confused about teacher evaluations?
Our goal is to reach our teachers with good information, that’s one of the reasons we are here today. Yes, it’s to listen and get ideas, but also I can tell you in the conversation I just had with teachers — it was awesome — but there were some misunderstandings.
So, we are looking at as many ways as possible — whether it’s video messages, emails, trainings. June 23 and 24 there is a training for teachers about the teacher evaluation, it’s in Albuquerque, it’s not in Clovis, but the expenses are paid for teachers to come to that. So, we are encouraging teachers to come, listen, be a part, ask questions, and we will continue to develop more and more resources for teachers so that they are equipped and feel confident and have the knowledge they need to be successful.
The students are expected to do a lot of testing at the end of the year — there’s Discovery, PARCC, the SBA science and the end of course exams — is there any discussion on reducing the amount of testing to get that data?
When I was talking earlier about doing the survey and hearing from teachers after the first run of PARCC, one of the other things they asked for and parents have asked for is less testing time. Next year, in a single year, we’ve reduced the testing time for PARCC on average by 90 minutes per test grade. So we are excited, yes that will be less testing in every grade level for every kid in our state. So that’s great news.
What are the department’s priorities moving forward from here into the next school year and then a couple of years out?
One of the key things that I see, and particularly it was confirmed today, as it is when I get to meet with educators across our state, is how do I support our teachers better?
There’s a lot of change over the last few years, and change is hard — even if it’s good change. So, when we are changing, how do we support our teachers in that change and champion their successes?
So, one of the things we are doing coming up is a program called Teachers Pursuing Excellence, and it’s a program where some of our best teachers are mentoring some of our newer, struggling teachers. So we are going to be looking at how do we support our teachers, how do we equip them with tools to be more successful, and I think you’ll see a pretty big focus on that.
What are some of the challenges the department is facing right now?
I mentioned the communication piece, I think that’s always a challenge. Creating those personal avenues of communication are going to be really important. I don’t know if I see this as much of a challenge as much as an opportunity, but a really important piece — I mentioned we just transitioned to PARCC, and that assessment is a harder assessment than we have had in the past.
And people think “Why are we having a harder test?” Well, we’ve got a harder test because we’ve raised the standards and expectations for our kids, which is a good thing.
We want to make sure when our kids graduate high school they are ready for college or a career. And what we are seeing is not all of them are. So, raising that bar is really important.
But it’s really important also that our parents know that we raised the bar, because you might when you see the results think “Oh my goodness, my child went backwards they are not doing as well this year.” And that’s not the case, we actually raised the bar and so invariably probably our students are doing just as well or better this coming year, but it may not show up immediately.
And making sure our parents and our communities know that, and know that we are, whether it’s the superintendent here supporting them or from Santa Fe and the governor, myself, we want to support our teachers and our students and our communities in the transition.