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June 2010: Look back, smile and look ahead

This guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.

Children running through your house during the day, the lack of school buses on the road and the emptier calendar: sure signs that summer is here. Now that my second school year as Albuquerque Public Schools superintendent has ended, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been accomplished in the district, and to say I've been pleased with the direction we've taken.

Of course, the credit goes to the teachers, educational assistants, secretaries, custodians, police officers — everyone who works passionately at our schools day after day. These are the folks who teach your children, engage them in learning and keep them safe. They do the real work and can never be thanked enough for doing jobs that come with many challenges.

Then there are the principals. They're responsible for bringing a variety of constituencies together and keeping many balls in the air at once.

I visit classrooms around the district as often as I can, and I'm always impressed by what I see. Students are learning in the classrooms. Most students left school at the end of May better readers than they were in August. Their math knowledge and awareness of the world around them improved. It doesn't hit the news that often, but real work is being accomplished in the classroom, and it's rewarding to watch teachers engaging students.

One item that did make the news this year was my visit to Eubank Elementary, where a fourth-grade class had read about students elsewhere in the country being paid for good grades and they wondered if it could be done here. Their teacher encouraged them to write and invite me to the school, an invitation too good to pass up.

The students shared their lives with me — a couple who had parents who were recently unemployed and wanted to get paid for good grades so they could help their families. I shared my thoughts on the cost of paying for grades. While I don't think I convinced all the students of my position, we all left with a better understanding of each other's views.

While we won't be able to put them on the payroll, the kids presented a reasoned argument and thought through the pros and cons. The ability to think critically and create solutions to problems will serve them well as they grow up.

It's one of many great stories from 2009-10.

Consider that during the school year, APS:

  • Opened a middle school and two new elementaries, as well as additions at a host of other schools.
  • Implemented a standardized bell schedule for all high schools.
  • Entered the first year of a redesign program at Rio Grande High and Ernie Pyle Mid-School.
  • Extended the academic day at all high schools — 2,500 students took advantage of the later hours.
  • Expanded middle school sports and activities.
  • Began using the AVID college readiness program at five schools — next year there will be 16 schools participating.
  • Cheered the news that all 25 graduates of Career Enrichment Center's nursing program in 2009 passed their board exams on the first try, a rare feat.
  • Instituted twice-yearly parent-teacher conferences led by students in high and middle school.
  • Congratulated 2009 Milken Educator Award-winning teacher Tamara Dunham, as well as numerous other teachers, administrators and students whose work shone under the spotlight.
  • Launched a new, more user-friendly website that has already won its first award.
  • Received support to continue upgrading and building school facilities when voters approved a $616 million bond and mill levy package.

And last month, we watched nearly 4,800 high school seniors earn their diplomas, including the first graduating class from Volcano Vista High. I attended at least seven ceremonies and could see how the hard work of students, families, teachers, administrators and other school staff paid off in graduation dividends.

As ready as we all are for this well-deserved break, I'm already looking forward to the possibilities for next year. We will all be working through the summer to make sure schools are ready when students return in August. We hope you as parents and community members will work this summer as well as you keep students engaged and ready to learn next school year.

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