CHAMBER PROGRAM: Leadership ABQ Gets Schooled on K-12 Education

Cibola High School principal Kim Finke (left, seated), talks to the class about many school leaders’ rocky adjustment to leadership as Sandia Prep Head of School Heather Mock (center) and Albuquerque Collegiate Founder and Director Jade Rivera (right) listen.

On Tuesday, Leadership Albuquerque gathered at Albuquerque Public Schools to learn all about K-12 and early childhood education in New Mexico.

To kick off the day, Amanda Aragon, Executive Director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, talked to the group about the importance of student performance data to ensure accountability of the adults making decisions about how our kids are educated. For a more local perspective, Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education members Danielle Gonzales and Courtney Jackson presented on the district’s first-ever strategic plan that has already made dramatic shifts in the board’s work, like its renewed focus on student outcomes. “There is positivity happening,” Jackson said.

Next, Public Education Department Cabinet Secretary Arsenio Romero gave an overview of the statewide education system, from shifts in best practices – like structured literacy, a highly systematic approach to teaching kids how to read – to the millions of dollars in investments for literacy, including a coming state literacy institute.

Aragon returned to moderate a panel of alumni from the Changemakers Fellowship, a nine-month program designed create opportunities for business professionals to learn more about education issues – and to make a difference in our education system. “My hope is that each of us can take something with us to use it in our jobs and our worlds,” said Changemakers alumna and CNM CFO Olivia Padilla-Jackson.

Public Education Department Cabinet Secretary Arsenio Romero reviews some top-dollar education budget items that passed in the 2024 legislative session.

Public Education Department Cabinet Secretary Arsenio Romero reviews some top-dollar education budget items that passed in the 2024 legislative session.

After a break for a lunch at LongHorn Steakhouse, Mariana Padilla, a top education advisor for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and director of the New Mexico Children’s Cabinet, talked about New Mexico’s revolutionary early childhood approach. In 2020, the state established the Early Childhood Education and Care Department, the nation’s first cabinet-level agency dedicated to early childhood programming. To sustain its work, the state also created a trust fund, another first-of-its-kind innovation; the fund has grown to over $7 billion, Padilla said, to put New Mexico on track for universal childcare.

Public Charter Schools of New Mexico Executive Director Matt Pahl took the mic next to introduce the group to what charter schools are and how they work. He described the free, public-school type as a powerful community empowerment mechanism, where community members make a statement about what they want and put it into action. He also covered the lengthy and rigorous process by which charters become authorized and launch to serve students.

Crystal Tapia-Romero and Sally Baumann, who both manage early childhood programs, talked about the ins and outs of early childhood offerings like home visiting and the ways childcare differs from pre-K. They also discussed major challenges in the early childhood system, like the importance of paying pre-K educators their worth as they earn significantly less than their counterparts teaching primary or secondary school. “If our teachers are happy, our families are happy,” Tapia-Romero said.

The program day concluded with a panel of principals who discussed the role of leadership in improving education outcomes. Cibola High School principal Kim Finke, Sandia Prep Head of School Heather Mock and Albuquerque Collegiate Founder and Director Jade Rivera covered their philosophies on their role and on fostering leadership elsewhere in their schools. They also discussed the importance of improving school leadership development, a focus of the Chamber for the last two years. “We need to think [of principals as] teacher-executives, not just teachers of teachers,” Rivera said.

Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education members Danielle Gonzales (at podium) and Courtney Jackson (seated) unpack the Board’s efforts to make APS a top-performing district focused on student outcomes.

Albuquerque Public Schools graciously hosted the Leadership Albuquerque class all day in the room where the APS Board of Education holds its regular meetings. Many thanks to our wonderful hosts at APS, as well as our outstanding speakers and experts. And of course, we always appreciate our class participants’ engagement and thoughtful questions.

Leadership Albuquerque’s next program day will be May 30 to learn about Albuquerque’s Downtown area and why it’s important to our city. We’re looking forward to another full day of interesting presentations and discussions!

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