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April 2010: Travel can lead to opportunity

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

As I hear from parents, employees and community members about ways to balance the Albuquerque Public Schools budget, one idea that comes up is to cut travel.

And while we will be cutting travel expenses for next year, I believe that when teachers and administrators travel outside the district for training or to meet with their peers, they can bring back valuable knowledge that can lead to classroom innovations and new ways of learning or better ways of conducting district business. The fact is sometimes you have to be there for good things to happen.

I traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to attend a legislative conference sponsored by the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the country's 65 largest school districts. While there, I was able to meet with Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, both D-N.M.

As you may know, Sen. Bingaman sits on the Senate Education Committee. I was able to tell him about the reforms Albuquerque schools are implementing to improve student achievement. I was also able to secure a promise from the senator to sponsor an appropriation that will support the extended-day programs at APS high schools and the AVID programs in our high schools and middle schools. If successful, this appropriation could bring as much as $250,000 in federal funds to support these programs that help students to achieve.

I also met with staff in Sen. Tom Udall's office and Rep. Martin Heinrich's office. They too were interested in the gains Albuquerque students are making.

These gains were highlighted in the Council of Great City Schools' recent report on the performance of students in urban school districts, which showed that Albuquerque students have made more progress than students in other urban districts and than their peers in New Mexico. The report, titled "Beating the Odds," showed that Albuquerque students perform in the top 25 percent of urban students nationwide.

The trip to Washington also gave us a chance to have a voice in the national conversation regarding development of a set of nationwide standards for curriculum and assessment. Later this month, the U.S. Department of Education will choose a number of districts to pilot implementation of those standards, and Albuquerque stands a chance of being one of those districts.

Why is this important? Because major reforms to testing and curriculum will be coming out of Washington in the next year as the president and Congress consider changes to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka "No Child Left Behind." And Albuquerque's participation in the discussions leading up to changes provides APS parents, teachers and students a way to make sure our concerns are considered.

The Albuquerque Public Schools are being invited to the table in Washington. Our input is being sought by legislators and policymakers at the federal level.

This opportunity to shape national policy can only help our efforts to improve student performance and become a leader in reforming education in this state and nation.

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