New Mexico Public Education Secretary Hanna Skandera, center, is greeted by Representatives Nora Espinoza, left, and Candy Spence-Ezzell at the Elks Lodge #969, Wednesday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
More than 100 people attended the Chaves County Republican Women’s Luncheon, Wednesday, to hear New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera speak about the strategic plan to raise the quality of education in the state.
She listed the areas where New Mexico is weakest, in reading and in graduations, ranking between 49 and 48 in the United States. Her goal is change.
“You got to focus and stay focused until you see the change take effect.”
She said that people often claim the schools need more money. However, she said that 44 percent of the state budget is directed to the school system.
“Investing is important, but we’re not getting a great deal of return on our investment.”
Skandera feels that the money needs to be targeted appropriately. One of the areas where tax dollars need to be spent is teaching the basics.
“Eighty-eight percent of high school dropouts could not read in third grade. Reading is the fundamental starting point. How can you learn math, science and history, especially history, unless you learn how to read?”
She referred to the common diagnostic assessment of reading skills and said the state is thinking of extending the school year for students in kindergarten through third grade by 25 days so the young did not lose valuable learning time.
“I’ve met kids that never had a book read to them and don’t even know how to hold scissors.”
Skandera will be introducing a new teacher evaluation system in the fall. The current system only rates teachers as competent and incompetent, which she believes is not helpful. The new system will provide grades A, B, C, D and F. She said businesses provide evaluation for employees pinpointing areas for improvement and schools should too. “Change is hard…. Let’s support our teachers.”
She noted that the school system has no program for teacher advancement. “We attempted to get one…. It was killed in the Labor Committeee,” she said.
New Mexico opted out of the No Child Left Behind that relied on a single test for assessment and replaced it with Every Student Matters. “Under the old system … of 838 total schools 835 were failing.”
Skandera implemented a grading system for schools, also based on the grades A, B, C, D and F.
Skandera said that under the new grading system, Anthony ranks fifth in the state. The school’s philosophy was: “absolutely no excuses.”
Roswell school grades were improving. In 2012, they were listed as 2 As, 4 Bs, 5 Cs, 8 Ds, and 1 F. In 2013, Roswell had 2 As, 5 Bs, 5 Cs, 7 Ds, and 1 F. She urged people to go to the PED website to find out how their children’s school stacks up.
During the question and answer period, Rep. Candy Ezzell, R-Roswell, described her experiences in a school with a total student body of 25. “I found that parents from Mexico were involved in their child’s education. They understood the importance of education.”