BACK TO SCHOOL – AND LOOKING AHEAD: Chamber Endorses Incoming PED Secretary’s Stance on Use of COVID Money for Learning

Yesterday was officially Albuquerque Public Schools’ first day of school, for those schools that didn’t head back early. After more than a year of remote learning and up-in-the-air hybrid schedules, it’s great to see clusters of kids waiting at the bus stop again, even if it does mean some extra traffic for the rest of us.

And the New Mexico Public Education Department is looking to new beginnings too: Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last week that Secretary Ryan Stewart will be leaving his role at PED and that recently-retired Los Alamos Public Schools Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus will be taking over.

Since then, Steinhaus has announced some important goals for the Department and the state. He told Chamber leaders he believes the best use of federal COVID-19 funding for public schools is on programming that supports learning, and that he aims to make New Mexico the “fastest-growing state in the country” in areas like behavioral health, academic achievement, and pipelines to employment. He also said he wants to see successful charter innovations shared and adopted more widely at traditional public schools.

“Closing learning gaps from the pandemic – and increasing academic achievement overall – is the highest and best purpose for (COVID relief) funds,” said Chamber leaders in a letter to Steinhaus.

For many business leaders, Steinhaus’ goals have been positively received. These last two school years have only widened persistent achievement gaps, and it will take intention and commitment to proven interventions and more time in the classroom to help our students catch up.

The goal of making New Mexico the fastest-improving state is more than appropriate too. As the state that persistently ranks dead last or 49th in education and child wellbeing, this goal is prudent – and realistic. We must believe we can get better and measure our progress.

Last, we at the Chamber are glad to hear state leadership might encourage more districts to benefit from local public charter schools’ lessons learned. Charters’ innovations were never intended to stay in a vacuum or be locked away like trade secrets. Our communities’ charter schools were designed to serve their students first, yes, but to also act as proving grounds for strategies that traditional public schools can implement too. It’s time to start a statewide conversation about what works and could have a bigger impact through our districts.

The Chamber is in full support of these goals and looks forward to helping our state reach them however we can. Below is a letter Chamber leaders sent to the secretary-designate this week.

Steinhaus is also declaring this academic year a year of literacy. We’ll be watching closely to see what a year of literacy might look like for our schools and students. As New Mexico Kids Can’s Amanda Aragon tweeted below, we hope this goal translates to supports for educators and kids that ultimately lead to stronger literacy rates. Our students sorely need the help with reading proficiency rates that hover at around 25%, and perhaps lower in the wake of more than a year of remote instruction, though we lack the data to know for sure.

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