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Posted August 14, 2012

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August 2012: Challenges won’t limit optimism

Read the superintendent’s column that ran in the Albuquerque Journal today, Aug. 14.

Monday, all Albuquerque Public Schools were back in session for the 2012-13 school year. As always, the start of a new school year brings optimism for continued academic success, and this year is no different.

Some APS elementary schools started the 2012-13 school year at the end of July. Cochiti, Duranes, Eugene Field, Mary Ann Binford, Mark Twain, Oñate and Susie Marmon began classes on July 23. These schools start three weeks earlier and get a couple of one-week breaks during the year that schools on the traditional calendar do not. Parents in the communities these schools serve have chosen to stay on the alternative calendar and have a shorter summer break.

Speaking of elementary schools, the biggest change coming to students in kindergarten through third grade this year is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in math, English and language arts. These new standards, which set learning expectations for all students, represent a big shift from the state standards of the past.

First off, there are fewer standards, so teachers will have more time to focus on what is really important in a student’s learning at every grade level. Teachers will have more time to go in-depth in topics that will prepare students for the next grade level. They will also be able to provide students who struggle with greater support in mastering the required material.

Second, because the new standards were built from the ground up with teacher and administrator input, they build on one another and present a clear progression on different topics. While before students might be introduced to a topic in first grade and then not revisit it again until the third or fourth grade, the new standards keep adding to a student’s depth of knowledge at each grade level.

In the 2013-14 school year, the new Common Core State Standards will be introduced in the remaining grade levels, again with a clear pathway to college and career readiness so that by the time a student graduates he or she will have the knowledge and skills to be successful no matter what path they chose.

At the mid-school level, the district has expanded AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination), a program designed to engage students in the middle of the academic spectrum and provide them with the extra help they need to realize their potential. Two more mid-schools will have AVID classes this coming school year-Jefferson and Polk. Rio Grande High also will also provide AVID for its students this year. The addition of these schools will bring the total number of schools with AVID programs to 18 middle schools and seven high schools.

At both the elementary and secondary levels, the district is joining with Discovery Education to provide health, science and social studies curriculum to students in a whole new way. Students will no longer have just printed texts; instead they will have access to interactive digital textbooks, with hands-on activities to make science come alive and be more engaging. These new materials will be aligned to the Common Core State Standards, and teachers will get help in teaching the new material in ways that will enhance student achievement.

At the high school level, the district will continue to expand learning opportunities in Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses, so students can earn college credit while still in high school. As has been reported by Dr. Peter Winograd at the UNM Center for Education Policy Research, students who take advantage of dual enrollment at either CNM or UNM finish high school in greater numbers. This statistic is even more pronounced for low-income students-86.8 percent of those who take a dual enrollment class finish high school on time, compared with 47.5 percent who do not.

While the district is excited to provide more opportunities for students at the top, it will continue to provide support for students who are struggling. All APS high schools will continue to offer extended day programs for students who need to make up credits so they can graduate on time.

The new school year will not be without its challenges, but you can be assured that with the help of the community, APS teachers, parents and administrators are up to meeting those challenges head-on and providing another year of high-quality academic and extracurricular programs for all students.

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