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Posted December 13, 2011

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December 2011: Community voices are being heard

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Superintendent Winston Brooks

I’m always delighted when I’m approached by parents, grandparents, concerned citizens and others who want to play an active role in making our school community better. I’ve found it’s not unusual for parents to engage at their kid’s individual school. It’s another thing altogether for people to act on behalf of all students – not just their own.

Update, January 2012:

This community group now has a name and a website:

Partners in Education & Advocates for Public Schools (PEAPS)

Visit their website to learn more about them and their mission.

It’s happening right here in APS, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

The idea first surfaced about this time last year. I had attended a public education advocacy gala in Santa Fe, where I met an East Mountains mother of two who was very passionate about the issues we grapple with every day: increased class sizes, teacher evaluations, the graduation rate, etc. This mom had been involved with a Santa Fe group advocating for strategies and polices that triggered positive change for Santa Fe Public Schools. She was convinced APS needed a partnership like this.

And so we’ve begun.

The rules were clear from the start. It would be up to the group to organize and engage the community, as well as decide which issues to take up. What the APS administration offered is the public information necessary to be informed on some of the critical issues ahead, including budget, proposed reforms and the implementation of national common core academic standards.

The information on these topics and others has always been available, but there’s a lot of it and it takes time and true commitment to learn if you’re not an APS employee. The desire of the group is to grow comfortable enough with the facts that they can share the knowledge with anyone interested enough to ask: in line at the grocery store, at the gym or at Jiffy Lube waiting for an oil change. There’s so much to cover, and budget will no doubt be a focus.

Bottom line: The advocacy agenda will be set by the group, not me or the district. But it’s clear that advocacy is needed, whether that’s at the Roundhouse or house-to-house. Public education simply must have more people in its corner – blue collar and white collar, parents and grandparents, Paseo del Norte to Isleta Boulevard.

Through media reports and word of mouth, many people already know Albuquerque Public Schools has suffered severe budget cuts over the last few years. There may not be as many who know the actual numbers: APS has cut more than $100 million and 1,000 positions since 2008.

That was one of the first questions asked and explained during the group’s inaugural session earlier this month. You could actually feel the enthusiasm in the room, see the determination and hear the passion of those who braved an outing on one of the worst weather nights of the year.

A good number of those at the meeting had attended one of our recent goals meetings out in the community. Their frustrations are a lot like ours – why don’t more people get involved, and what’s it going to take to motivate the community so we can effectively advance and advocate for our 90,000 kids and 11,500 employees?

I may be guilty of being a little too optimistic too soon, but I can’t hide my enthusiasm. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. Our students need hope. They’re smart. They understand how political education has become, and they know how much is at stake.

I hope all of us welcome the questions of an independent advocacy group about proposed school reforms, funding formulas and anything else that spills into the classroom. It’s very clear to me that advocates don’t come with the same assumptions as we “bureaucrats” sometimes do, and that may be the leverage they need to prompt the kind of change that is truly beneficial.

I guess I feel so strongly about this because I’ve got grandchildren in public schools. I always try to remember that education isn’t about me, or a school district, or an institution. It’s about them – thousands and thousands of young kids who need adults who are willing to go to bat on their behalf.

We need to stand up for our students and educators. We need to learn how to turn emotion into action. We can’t do it alone, and thankfully, it looks like we may not have to.

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