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Posted: November 15, 2019

Planning Ahead

In her weekly message, Superintendent Reedy talks about planning for next school year.

Genius Hour at Whittier Elementary

Genius Hour at Whittier Elementary

By nature, educators are planners. We plan lessons, activities, and meetings. We plan for the day, week, month, even the year.

As good as we are at planning, we’re just as good at adjusting because when you’re in the people business, even the best laid plans can go awry. 

In public education, it only makes sense to think ahead – far ahead. We start each school year thinking about the next. We prepare our kindergarteners for first grade, our fifth graders for middle school, our eighth graders for high school, our high schoolers for college and career.

And all along the way, we bob and weave, modify and adapt, rethink, regroup and recalculate as each unique situation presents itself.

That's what we're doing now as we consider the calendar for the 2020-2021 school year.

The New Mexico Public Education Department asked districts for ideas regarding the concept of adding days to the school year. We turned to you and other stakeholders, sending a survey in the spring and seeking input a month or so ago on proposed extended-year calendars. Thanks to all who shared opinions and suggestions.

When lawmakers passed, and the governor signed a bill earlier this year providing more public education funding, they specifically earmarked two initiatives for the state’s 89 school districts. One program adds 10 days of learning to the school year. The second, known as K-5 Plus, provides five weeks of summer learning for elementary students. Lawmakers and state education officials pointed to research that demonstrates the effectiveness of more learning time in providing needed help or opportunities for enrichment.

This school year, about a dozen APS schools took advantage of the extended learning time program, adding 10 days to the beginning of the school year for some, if not all, of their students. Many others offered K-5 plus at their schools. PED is asking districts that participated in these two initiatives for feedback.

Early results for the extended year have been positive. Our three former MRI schools, which added 10 days to their school year a couple of years ago, are seeing improved test scores, better attendance, and more engaged students and families. They are especially excited about the Genius Hour that allows students to explore their passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. 

All employees who work at these schools, of course, are compensated for the additional hours. The increase in pay, which was subject to union negotiations, amounts to more than $10,000 a year on average for teachers at those schools. That’s on top of the raises they received.

Now, APS – with continued input from our students, staff, and families – needs to decide whether to extend the school year at more of its schools. If so, which ones? What if we added more learning days to all of our elementary and middle schools? What if we added five days to the beginning and five days to the end of the school year, instead of stacking all additional days to the start of school? High schools are more of a challenge because of credits, graduation requirements and the like, so they aren’t being considered at this time.

Nothing has been decided. A lot hinges on funding and expectations that will come out of the state legislative session in January.  

The bottom line is New Mexico lags behind the rest of the nation in education, and we now have a unique opportunity to contemplate ways to help our students be more successful. 

It’s hard to plan when there are so many unknowns. And that goes against our grain. But I ask for your patience. And your vision. Imagine what we might be able to do if we had more time with our students. How might we better their lives while working to improve education for students in APS and across the state?  

That’s worth taking some time to think about.