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Posted December 16, 2009

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August 2009: Changes for the School Year

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

I’ve lost track of the number of back-to-school seasons I’ve ushered in, but I have to tell you I still feel hopeful, excited and -- like a lot of folks -- a little anxious about the school year ahead. We’ve raised the bar at APS, and we don’t intend on easing up on the expectations we have for our students, parents, teachers and staff.

There is no silver bullet for success in education, but there are truths about student achievement that we intend to build on. We recognize the urgency for education reform, especially at the middle and high school levels, which is where we’ve put a lot of our focus lately. That’s not to say we’re not paying attention to our elementary schools, too. But overall, I think we’re doing a pretty good job with our youngest kiddos, thanks in large part to the great parent involvement we see at so many schools at that level.  

Here are some of the changes we’ve made for this school year with a goal of improving the academic success of our students.

• The traditional four-year high school plan no longer works for every one of our students, especially those faced with family and financial challenges. With those students in mind we are extending the academic day to 5 p.m. at all of our traditional high schools. Now students lacking a credit or two in core subjects will be able to meet graduation requirements.

•   All APS traditional high schools will be on a standardized, seven-period bell schedule that combines traditional and block scheduling. The new schedule allows extended class periods to be used for remediation in subjects like Algebra or English, and it also gives teachers more time to engage students in interactive learning such as projects, labs and experiments. Standardizing the bell schedule also means students can transfer from one APS school to another without losing credits – important for a school district like ours that has a high mobility rate.

• Research shows that students who get involved in extra-curricular activities perform better in school, so we have increased the middle school athletic budget by $1 million to extend our middle school sports programs. More students will now have access to sports such as basketball and track and field.

•For the first time ever APS will have a district coordinator for JROTC programs to bring consistency to the programs and build on the scholarship and career opportunities currently offered.

• There will be fewer teacher in-service days for families to plan around. Teacher professional development days will be held at the beginning of the school year and at the start of the second semester.

•Expect parent/teacher conferences for all students. To help prepare for these conferences, the APS Health and Wellness Department has created Student and Family Guides for every grade level that will soon be available on the APS website.

• AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, will target students who have the potential to achieve at a higher level but haven’t. AVID students will be required to take Advanced Placement college-level courses, learn study and organizational skills, be encouraged to fill out college applications and apply for scholarships,  and hopefully walk away from high school with a better understanding  of the opportunities ahead of them.

And there’s so much more. Last year APS completed more than $275 million dollars in new construction projects including two brand new elementaries, a new middle school and a new soccer complex on the West Side. Atrisco Heritage Academy High School will add sophomores this fall and Volcano Vista High School will welcome its first senior class. If the excitement is tempered a bit by a little anxiety, it’s only because the stakes are so high. But as always, we’re up for the challenge.  


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