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Posted August 8, 2018

Superintendent's Message to the Economic Forum of ABQ

Raquel Reedy spoke to the business leaders' group on Wednesday, Aug. 8.

The Economic Forum of Albuquerque is a non-partisan business leaders group dedicated to the continued improvement of our community. Its efforts involve educating and informing decision makers from the business, government and education sectors of significant issues and concerns facing the community.

Good morning and thank you for having me. I would like to begin today by showing you a video.

This is how I see Albuquerque Public Schools. My hope is that you, too, will begin to view the district through this lens.

APS is one of the few entities that connects with almost every person in this room…every person in our city, for that matter, whether as 

  • graduates of our schools
  • friends or family of our employ
  • businesses that provide goods and services to the distr
  • or volunteers who spend time with our students.

APS is an integral part of Albuquerque. Our impact on economic development is evidence of that. During the recession, more than 70-percent of all construction in Albuquerque was tied to APS. And we continue to be a major player in Albuquerque’s growth.

We are proud to contribute to the economic success of our city, but our core mission, of course, is education.

What we do is serious business. Educating children is both honorable and important work. But it comes with its fair share of challenges, especially in a large, urban-suburban-rural school district that stretches over 1,200 square miles with 13 million feet of instructional space.

Did you know our buses travel 39,000 miles each day to get our students to and from school – 6 million miles a year!  That’s 240 trips to the moon!

And each day, we serve nearly 70,000 meals to our students!

Our 143 schools in APS that serve 84,000 unique students including:

  • 57,000, or about 68 percent, who live in poverty or whose families struggle to make ends meet. More than 3,500 of our students were homeless last year.
  • 14,500 of our students, or about 17 percent, have disabilities. APS serves a disproportionate number of special education students compared to other districts and charter schools in the state because Albuquerque is a hub for services.
  • 14,000, or just under 17 percent, of our students, speak a language other than English at home.  

It was students like these, actually one student in particular, who inspired me to become an educator.

I met 7-year-old Victoria – I called her Vicky – when she was attending the Texas State School for the Blind hundreds of miles from her family in South Texas. Vicky was shy, but she also was bright, articulate and funny. A true delight. When the school staff told me she was “retarded” – as they used to say in those days – I asked how could that be? Then I found out she failed her IQ test – in English. Vicky only spoke Spanish.

I quickly, angrily corrected this horrendous mistake, but what if I had not been there? What would have happened to Vicky?

I’ve been committed to this line of work ever since. For more than four decades, now. 

I have worn a lot of hats as an educator. It is my greatest honor to serve as Superintendent for the Albuquerque Public Schools.

As I mentioned, public education has its share of problems. And I will be the first to tell you that in APS, we have a way to go to meet our goal of providing a quality education to every single one of our students.

But we are solidly on the right path, and our data proves it.

Take our graduation rate.

APS saw a two-year graduation rate increase of 6 percentage points, from 61.7 percent in 2015 to 67.9 percent in 2017. When extracting district-authorized charter schools, for which APS has little academic oversight, our graduation rate is 72.6 percent. 

The greatest gains in that two-year period were made by:

  • African American students whose graduation rate improved by 13.9 percentage points
  • Native American students who saw an improvement of 9.1 percentage points and
  • English Language Learners who saw a 16.4 percentage point improvement.

We also saw improved scores on the state-required PARCC assessments with an average gain of 3.5 percentage points in English/language arts and 1.6 percentage points in math.

In fact, our test scores improved for all grades in English/language arts. Math scores improved in grades 3-7 and Algebra I.

And, more than half of all APS 11th graders now meet or exceed expectations in English/language arts.

By the way, all three APS schools identified by the state as in need of More Rigorous Intervention, our MRI schools, saw positive gains in the recent PARCC assessment. And we fully expect these scores will continue to climb.

Another area of success we can celebrate today is 8th-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), nicknamed the nation’s report card. We saw an increase of 6 percentage points.

Albuquerque students are now outperforming their grade 8 peers in reading in Baltimore City, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, the District of Columbia, Fort Worth, Fresno, Houston, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia.

We are not kidding ourselves. We know these numbers need to continue to grow. But the evidence reinforces our belief that we are moving in the right direction.

Do we have a plan for continued improvement? Yes, we do – The APS Academic Master Plan.

I spent my first year as superintendent developing the Academic Master Plan. We sat down with students, parents, community members, government officials and many of you who are here today to answer questions, listen to concerns and gain a better understanding of what you want for APS.

Today, the AMP is our touchstone. It is our foundation that you helped lay out in those early days of my administration.

We fleshed out this plan and created a list of priorities – what we nicknamed the Supt’s Big 5:

  • Early Learning
  • College, Career & Life Readiness
  • The Whole Child
  • Attendance  
  • Community and Parent Engagement.
While these are shared priorities across the district, how we address them can vary by neighborhood, which is why we created Learning Zones. The four Zones allow us to tailor-fit services and resources to meet the needs of our students and schools. Not only are the zones responsive to individual school needs, but they also are helping to create a seamless vertical transition from elementary to middle to high school.

Of course, we know students can’t learn if they aren’t in school, which is why attendance is among my top priorities.

Every single one of our schools is working in creative ways to reduce the habitual truancy rate, and we’re seeing some promising early results, in part due to our partnership with Mission Graduate. Mission Graduate has helped train school attendance teams on strategies and methods to monitor and create action plans to improve attendance.   

Our next school attendance team training will take place this month. 

Thank you, Mission Graduate and the United Way for your support in this area. 

In addition, our dedicated school counselors have been working to curb truancy as well. Each counselor developed relationships with 10 students who struggled to get to school – about 1,700 students in all. And these relationships paid off – more than half of those students saw improved attendance by an average of 15 days. It was a pilot project that showed lots of potential; one that we will continue and expand upon this school year.

Our counselors – along with our nurses, teachers, social workers and so many others – are on the front lines helping students deal with social and emotional issues that are often barriers to learning. I am talking about drugs and alcohol, guns and violence, crime, family crisis, emotional instability. We can’t ignore these issues. They are part of reality for too many of our students, which is why we have made helping the whole child another one of our priorities.

The good news is our families give us high marks for our efforts. The latest Quality of Education survey found that

•    96-percent of parents feel welcome at their child’s school

•    92-percent feel their child’s school holds high expectations for academic achievement and

•    88-percent feel their child is safe at school.

Student safety, it goes without saying, is of utmost importance in APS. Right now we are hardening all of our school buildings to make entry more difficult.

Teams have assessed every school building to identify what safety enhancements are needed. We are working to strengthen gates and door locks. We are installing security cameras and intercom systems.

And we are working closely with Homeland Security, the FBI, APD and BCSO on how to handle lockdowns, evacuations and other emergencies, using the latest nationally identified best practices in preparation for this new school year.

We’ve made great strides, but we have lots more to do.

I want us to focus on the now and future. We need to learn from our experiences as we move forward. I invite you to join us on this journey. 

 If we really want better outcomes for our students, we need to come together to replicate what’s working, fix what isn’t, set aside judgment and blame, and convince our teachers and students that we believe in them. 

We have a plan to do just that.

We are using data in a more focused manner with our Zones, K-12 continuum, instructional rounds, and 90-day plans to monitor growth and success.

We have teams in place that focus on each school’s data in order to develop “Best Bets” for the school, identifying practices that will lead to solid results.

For instance, if a school’s data determines that students in a particular grade are struggling with multiplication, the data team will come up with Best Bets for teaching addition and other math skills that will develop a strong foundation for learning multiplication. And the Learning Zone will provide support for teaching these skills.

The same goes for writing an expository essay, applying deep reading for analysis, solving algebraic equations … you get the idea.

This is not a one-time effort by data teams and Zone support personnel. The visits, data collection, and 90-day plan reviews are on-going and scrupulously monitored. 

You can tell I am passionate about what is happening in our schools. I could go on forever, but I won’t.

But if you’ll allow me to brag just a bit more:

One of my commitments as superintendent was to streamline and restructure departments and reduce spending at the district level in an effort to put more money into classrooms and schools.

I’m happy to report that according to the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders, nearly 64 percent of the APS operational budget goes to direct instruction compared to a New Mexico average of about 60 percent.

Less than 1 percent of our operational budget goes to central administration. The state average is more than double that.

Another bragging point: APS is innovative. We want to help students find their passion, whatever that may be:

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs are germinating all over APS like the one being offered through the new K-12 STEM magnet school pathway in the North Valley funded with a $7.8 million U.S. Department of Education grant.
  • The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Sandia High School, free for any of our students who embrace academic challenges (believe me, this program is not free at private schools!) provides a rigorous two-year course of study emphasizing inquiry and critical thinking.
  • The dual-credit programs at Early College Academy and College and Career High School allow students to earn college credit while in high school. Many of these students graduate with an associate’s degree or get a two-year jump their university coursework. Imagine the tuition savings! 
  • The Practical Nursing Program at the Career Enrichment Center prepares high school students for entry-level nursing jobs. Our dual language programs and schools that are giving students the opportunity to graduate with a bilingual seal – 242 recent graduates received seals on their diplomas.

This is just a small sampling of what we offer in APS.

Of course, we can’t do any of this work alone.

Thank you to C-N-M and U-N-M for all our partnerships.

Thank you to the City of Albuquerque for  

  •  Crossing guards
  • School resource officers
  • After-school programs and so much more.

Thanks to everyone in this room for supporting our students and staff.

There are too many to name individually, but you know who you are, and so do we.

Often, I’m asked, “How can I help?”

Thanks for asking. We have a handout on the table for you that outlines several ways you as business leaders and community members can help support your school district.

More than anything, we need your support.

Help us.

Champion us.

Let our students and families know you have faith in APS.

There is a part for all of us to play in this all-important work of educating our students, students like Vicky who just need someone to appreciate how special they are. That would make all the difference. 

Thank you.

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