Open Letter to Study Group for Teacher Concerns

By GENE SCHMIDT, Superintendent
Los Alamos Public Schools

I am pleased to share that School Board President Jim Hall, School Board Vice President Judy Bjarke-McKenzie, Curriculum and Instruction Director Pam Miller, and I met with Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera and Deputy Secretary Leighann Lenti during the winter break. The conversation was cordial. Ms. Skandera promised to review our letter and provide feedback within a week to our concerns.

During the conversation, she expressed willingness to consider extending the district some flexibility in observation options. In saying this, she appeared to welcome the district’s submission of a proposal at the end of this school year to better meet our needs for teacher observation/evaluation protocols. As part of our proposal for improving the teacher evaluation system, Ms. Skandera has asked that the district compile a year’s worth of data using the current observation protocols and value-added model.

She stated that the district (not PED) determines the expectations and type of lesson plan format used. As such, we have the flexibility of choosing an appropriate lesson plan model that meets our needs. She verified that the optional portions of Teachscape were indeed optional.

On this point, we asked for examples of what reflective responses look like. We also shared that principals and teachers were investing a great deal of time in filling our Teachscape documents–time that we felt would be better served preparing for classroom instruction. In the course of the conversation, Ms. Skandera indicated that Teachscape could have been rolled out better and as a lesson learned, NMPED would re-evaluate and improve the Teachscape training process.

Ms. Skandera seemed open to working with the district on End-of-Course exams so long as they were uniform, valid, and reliable. Personally, I don’t know how much PED will allow us to change EoC’s. I will share that we have teachers in our district who have helped PED with writing End of Course exams. It may be possible to tie into these teacher strengths if teachers need help writing their own. In the course of the one hour meeting, we also shared our concern that professional development for Common Core was underfunded and needed to be addressed.  

It is my understanding that President Hall, Vice President Bjarke-McKenzie, and I will report back to the School Board at the regularly scheduled Jan. 14 School Board meeting. It is my hope that the Secretary of Education’s written response will be included as a part of the conversation. Additionally, depending on the Secretary’s response, the School Board may choose to make suggestions for making the teacher evaluation tool our own.

As I indicated at the last Study Group for Teacher Concerns meeting, our work is only beginning and we will be re-convening the group to begin to address our proposal for next year. The School Board may also choose to create a sub-committee to review and develop a proposal for End-of-Course exams. In closing, I want to thank you for your participation in raising these issues. As noted in the beginning of the email, your good work generated a thoughtful conversation with the Secretary of Education and her Deputy Secretary. We await her response.