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Posted May 15, 2012

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May 2012: Redesign of schools just beginning

Read the Superintendent’s column that ran in the Albuquerque Journal May 8

The Albuquerque Public Schools want to work with parents and teachers to raise expectations for all students, which is why recently we have begun to look at redesigning schools to make them more effective for student achievement.

In the past couple of weeks the community has seen the announcement of redesign efforts at two schools: Emerson Elementary, a school in the Southeast Heights, which in spite of a lot of work by teachers, parents and administrators has continued to have poor results in terms of student achievement on the state’s Standards Based Assessment; and A. Montoya Elementary and Roosevelt Mid-School, two schools that share a campus in Tijeras.

At Emerson, the district has embarked on a partnership with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation to address the needs of students who are clearly struggling – in 2011, 19.4 percent of students were proficient in math and 15.5 percent were proficient in reading. To give the school a fresh start, it will get a new principal and teachers will need to re-apply for their positions as the school moves to implement the state Common Core Standards at all grade levels.

Other schools in APS and New Mexico will implement the Common Core Standards in only kindergarten through third grade next year.

Emerson, as a model Common Core Standards school, will be open as a magnet to students from throughout the district. And, all the students would get the benefits we expect to see from the Common Core Standards-a deeper understanding of subject areas with an eye toward starting at the elementary level to prepare students for college and careers.

What we hope is that teachers will want to take on the challenge of moving this school and its students forward in a consistent, well-thought-out manner. To help make this happen, the district is putting about $200,000 in federal Title I funds, money earmarked to help low-income students achieve in math and reading, into the redesign.

The 32 teachers selected to teach at Emerson will all be certified to teach English Language Learners, which make up almost 60 percent of the school’s 431 students this year. They also will get the opportunity to collaborate with their peers at the school as they extend their work day an extra hour and add five days to their school year. The school day and the school year will remain the same for students.

At A. Montoya and Roosevelt, we are looking to provide the best education for both groups of students by establishing the district’s first kindergarten through eighth-grade school next year.

Teachers at the combined school (we’ll get input from the community next year on what to call it) will again get the opportunity to collaborate and share their best practices in ways that are not possible at two separate schools. Everyone will have the same road map for leading students on the path to success.

For example, a fifth-grader who can handle sixth- or seventh-grade math, will get the opportunity to take that class. By the same token, a seventh-grader who is struggling in reading will be able to take advantage of teaching strategies he or she may have missed in the primary grades.

The K-8 model has been successful in communities across the country, so we decided to give it a try. Schools using this model have seen a number of benefits, including an easier transition for students moving from fifth to sixth grade, more efficient use of facilities and a decrease in discipline problems as older students take care of younger students and learn empathy for their younger peers.

While these redesign efforts will take time to show results, with the state and the district moving toward the new state Common Core State Standards, we believe it is the perfect time to try new approaches and to raise expectations for all students. As a district, we will study the results and if they prove successful, the community will see more of these bold collaborative steps in redesigning how education works best for students Albuquerque.

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