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Posted December 20, 2010

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December 2010: Listen to What Students Say

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Sometimes administrators get so caught up in the numbers — shortfalls, gaps, rates, percentages — that we neglect to put faces on the data. It's not that we've forgotten our purpose of providing the best possible education for our children; we just need to make a concerted effort never to reduce those children to statistics.

That's why I've spent so much time lately in schools and classrooms. And that's why I've been meeting regularly with a dynamic group of high school students who serve on the Superintendent's Student Advisory Council.

I love these meetings (there are two words I don't usually use together in the same sentence). I look forward to my time each month with these kids because I find them engaging, intelligent and truly concerned about their education — just as concerned, if not more so, than the adults in the room.

Plus, they're refreshingly candid. You may have heard about the SuperSAC kids who called us out for our rude cell phone behavior during a board meeting recently. The students had the room roaring with laughter because they told it like it is.

I've been asking them to tell me like it is on some tough topics lately. Like what's wrong with their schools? What happens if we change the start times for schools? How do we cut tens of millions of dollars from the APS budget?

They've got answers; some that we hadn't thought of before. Their input is invaluable. Their feedback is critical to our decision-making.

We need to listen.

SuperSAC is made up of two students from each traditional high school as well as student representatives from all of our alternative high schools. This diverse group of mostly juniors and seniors were chosen by their principals because these are the students who, as I requested, can really make things happen at their schools. Some are class leaders, but others are not. What they have in common is a concern for their schools and their education.

When we met for the first time back in October, most of the 34 students serving on the advisory council admitted they didn't know much about APS as a whole. But they have a lot of opinions about their schools and their education. They brag about diverse school populations, dedicated teachers, supportive principals, interesting and challenging classes.

Some of the kids said they'd like the public to have a better opinion of APS. That's one of my goals, too. We have a lot of really good things happening at their schools and throughout the district; I'm counting on these kids to help me get the word out.
Not everything these students tell me is rosy and affirming, and I appreciate their frankness. They're worried about the lack of motivation and school spirit among some of their classmates. They wish they had more elective choices. They don't like cliques. They say too many kids are late to or absent from classes way too often. As Marisa Tafoya, a senior at Highland, put it: "I wish more people would come to school, go to class and learn."

The kids also complain about crowded classrooms, a problem that likely will become even more pervasive due to budget cuts. These students may not know a whole lot about state funding shortfalls, employee layoffs or furloughs, but they understand budget cuts because they live with the results every day.

That's why I value my meetings with these students, and why I've asked a few of them to visit with the Board of Education at its monthly District Relations Committee meeting. The decisions we make are really about them and the other 89,966 students we serve in APS. So why not give them a voice in the decision-making process?

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