Dr. Sandra Rodriguez. Courtesy/NNMC
ESPAÑOLA — Dr. Sandra Rodriguez, chair of Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) Department of Teacher Education, has been invited to serve on the new Teacher Workforce Task Force by New Mexico Higher Education Department Cabinet Secretary Stephanie M. Rodriguez.
The task force was established by House Memorial 18 (HM18) in response to the consolidated Martínez/Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. In 2018, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled that the state must provide sufficient resources – including properly trained teachers and culturally and linguistically relevant instruction – for Native American, English language learner, low-income and disabled students. The court identified a highly effective teacher workforce as the most critical of these resources and an essential component to a student’s education.
The task force is charged with developing a comprehensive strategic plan to forge a diverse teacher workforce that meets the needs of the at-risk student groups cited in the lawsuit.
“The Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit was a long time coming.,” Rodriguez said. “We know that there have always been inequities and I think that now we’re being mandated to take it seriously and look into it and find solutions.”
Rodriguez received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Education (Focus At-Risk Youth) from the College of Santa Fe and her Ph.D. in Childhood and Multicultural Teacher Education from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She attended the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Boston, MA for Leadership Development.
Rodriguez’ extensive resume includes serving as chair of the Northern’s Department of Teacher Education since 2018, and during that time serving as Interim Dean of the College of Education. She was appointed to the United States Commission on Civil Rights from 2010- 2020, which included two terms as chair of the New Mexico State Advisory Council (NMSAC). She was a community advocate for the Hispanic Education Act Advisory Council 2011-2021. One of the accomplishments she is most proud of is leading efforts to pass major legislation in New Mexico for Deaf/Hard of Hearing teacher candidates.
Rodriguez believes New Mexico’s testing requirement for licensure is an indicator of systemic racism that needs to be addressed. New Mexico is one of only 15 states that still requires this. The task force is charged with looking at alternative pathways for teacher preparation programs and teacher credentials and licensing. Rodriguez contends the testing criteria does not reflect a person’s ability to teach, and often relegates talented teachers to making $15,000 a year as teaching assistants.
“They are excellent in the classroom,” Rodriguez said. “So in my opinion, one of the examples of systemic racism is to have those exams as a gate. It’s not letting people in. it’s keeping people out. When the people who are being kept out are heavily weighed into one population there’s a problem. It’s not the student.
Fighting this type of inequity was ingrained into Rodriguez as a child growing up in Roswell, N.M. She watched her father and uncles, all strong supporters of the carpenters’ union, rise early to drive 200 miles to a construction site because they refused to take non-union jobs closer to home.
“That’s what I grew up seeing and being a part of, knowing there’s a difference between right and wrong. And in my opinion, the difference between right and wrong is human dignity,” Rodriguez said.
“You can go through college, get your credentials and everything else, but because you didn’t pass this one test, you’re going to be pigeonholed into making $15,000 a year – that’s unjust. So it’s doing the hard stuff, to stand up and say, ‘That’s wrong.’”