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August 2010: Challenges Ahead Bring Excitement

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Perhaps more than any I can remember, I’m looking forward to the start of the 2010-2011 school year next week. The new school year always offers a feeling of excitement, fresh ideas and opportunities to learn.

It’s the perfect time for parents to meet their children’s new teachers and get involved in school activities. Parent involvement is key to student success and schools welcome the support.

We’re on an upward trend at Albuquerque Public Schools. Graduation rates are up and we’re getting closer to many goals we’ve been setting for ourselves. APS is fast becoming notable for achievement—the wider academic and corporate world has presented a host of awards to students and teachers, recognition that the people of APS truly are doing great things. The recognition of the past year lays the foundation to build on this year.

Awards alone don’t educate or improve our schools. It takes the commitment and drive of our students, teachers, families and the community to move us forward. If we want to change our educational success rate, we have to change the way we look at education.

APS Board of Education President Marty Esquivel put it well when he recently addressed the district’s leadership team and administrators. He asked us to bring in new ideas and look at things differently, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

This year, we’re tripling the reach of the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) college readiness program to include 16 middle and high schools in its second year in APS. Also, the extended day at high schools is expected to attract even more than last year’s 2,500 students, helping them recover course credits and get back on track to graduation with their peers. At the district level, we’ll learn more this year about our participation in the country’s move toward national core academic standards. APS is getting a national voice it’s never had before.

Inside and outside the classroom, construction begins this year on a number of critical projects that will improve the environment where students learn. Electronic whiteboards have been installed in classrooms all over the district. The capital improvements package voters approved will have an impact lasting beyond this year, and the community is to be congratulated for this investment in students’ futures.

Mr. Esquivel told our administrators that educators and students have the ability to move mountains. We should all be excited that a 70 percent graduation rate is within our grasp. The latest figures show we’re very close, and the programs we’ve implemented over the past two years are starting to show positive results. I expect to see our rate well over 70 percent within the next couple of years.

We’re already setting targets for graduation, but Mr. Esquivel also asked us to set corresponding targets in other areas, such as test scores. While fewer APS schools met Adequate Yearly Progress this year, I’m pleased that 83 of our schools made gains in math proficiency and 47 improved in reading.

In spite of our improvements, our board president cautioned us not to get complacent. I assured him—and will tell you the same—that we’re anything but that. We have a long way to go, and have many mountains to move, before we could ever consider such a thing. The New Mexico Public Education Department will substantially raise the bar for next year, and so will we with our targets for individual schools.

One final thought Mr. Esquivel shared is that we need to get the message out that APS is improving. This is critical because we can’t make the kind of gains we all want without community support. The involvement of people like you—parents, grandparents, business leaders and everyday people who come into contact with our kids—will make all the difference in the world.

We have an incredibly bright future in front of us. That’s why I’m so excited for 2010-11.

Student of the Week JC Sandoval
5th grader School at Comanche Elementary School
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