KEEPING THE MOMENTUM: Albuquerque Public Schools incoming leader highlights focus on literacy and absenteeism

Dr. Gabriella Durán Blakey, left, incoming Superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools, spoke at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce’s Education Matters Luncheon. She will begin her role on July 1. At right is Bruce Stidworthy, chairman of the GACC’s Board of Directors and president of Bohannan Huston.

KEEPING THE MOMENTUM: Albuquerque Public Schools incoming leader highlights focus on literacy and absenteeism

Yesterday, at its annual Education Matters event, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce hosted the new leader of the state’s largest school district for insights into an exciting new chapter. Dr. Gabriella Durán Blakey, incoming superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools, unveiled her vision for the district’s future to attendees, who gathered at the Marriott Pyramid.

Bruce Stidworthy, chairman of GACC and president of Bohannan Huston, emceed the event, welcoming attendees and recognizing a variety of community leaders who attended. Stidworthy explained education is one of the top three issues the Chamber focuses on in its work to build a stronger Albuquerque.

“Education really does matter,” he said. “It’s essential to creating a talented, high-quality workforce in New Mexico. (Education is also) essential to driving economic growth and stopping the poverty cycle within a family, or even a neighborhood.”

Before Blakey’s keynote address, GACC leaders welcomed new members of the Chamber community. Mike Canfield, former GACC board chair and president and CEO of the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, introduced two of the Chamber’s newest Leadership Circle investors, Holmans USA and ExxonMobil. He also recognized four other new investor companies, Amy Biehl High School Foundation, Adult and Teen Challenge New Mexico, Mathnasium of Northeast Albuquerque and Nothing Bundt Cakes.

Next, Paul Madrid, vice chairman of the Education BIG and REDW Principal, told attendees about the Chamber’s Albuquerque Reads program, which pairs Title I kindergarten and first-grade students with volunteer tutors for intensive, weekly literacy practice. Sally Giannini, Albuquerque Reads site coordinator at Bel Air Elementary, explained how the program works – and how important it is that community members like business leaders find the time to help our youngest students gain the reading skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. For information on becoming a tutor, please go to ABQReads.com.

After an introduction by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico President Janice Torrez, Blakey shared the first steps she will take to boost student achievement when she steps into the superintendent role on July 1.

“Being able to leverage and build upon background knowledge in literacy and math proficiency is what we focus on, and we need to do,” she said. “Keeping that eye on it is critical as we move the needle forward. We’re also helping to build upon the success of the kindergarten rates and look at the second-grade reading, (which) is about 31%. It’s still lower than where students were pre-pandemic. … It’s important to highlight the heavy lift that we have ahead of us.”

Durán Blakey outlined the district’s four goals as part of its new strategic plan:
· Early literacy
· Math, with a special focus on middle school math
· High standards for high school students, like dual credit courses, International Baccalaureate programs and the bilingual seal endorsement for diplomas
· Skills, habits and mindsets for all students.

As an important step in making progress in these metrics, the district will also target chronic absenteeism, currently a significant problem the district faces.

“If the students aren’t in school, there is little influence that we can have on them,” she said. “We do have a very high absenteeism rate, and we’re trying to highlight some of the work we’ve done. We were about 40%, and it’s gone down to 34%. We’re being highlighted nationally for progress. Once you see you’re moving forward, you get the confidence to continue moving forward.”

And, to boost engagement, APS is also expanding its fine arts programs to create more opportunities for the district’s elementary school students to experience visual arts and music.

“This helps with consistency that we are addressing our students in their creativity,” she said. “As a musician myself (she’s a violinist with the Symphony Orchestra of Albuquerque), in my personal experience, I’ve learned perseverance. We want to give students those opportunities.”

Like Giannini, Durán Blakey encouraged event attendees to volunteer as tutors in the Albuquerque Reads program.

“There are children ready for their tutors when the school year begins in the fall,” she said.

So what can the business community do to support the district’s success? Durán Blakey encouraged attendees to stay engaged – both at the district level as APS pursues the goals laid out in its strategic plan and in their neighborhood schools.

We’re grateful to Superintendent Durán Blakey for taking the time to share her vision for the district and her plan to help Albuquerque kids reach new heights – the Chamber is proud to be partners in the work to prepare our kids for success. And many thanks to the Marriott Pyramid and their staff for hosting us at their venue.

We hope you’ll join us at our next signature event featuring Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller on June 25 – details below. And please keep an eye on your inbox for more Chamber event news!

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