School Board Moves to Ease Teacher Burdens

Dist. 43 Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, center, and others listen to Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn as he gives an overview of the history of the New Mexico Teacher Evaluation System. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/
Mountain Principal James Ivanovich explains how the new Teacher Evaluation System affects principals. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/
Los Alamos Daily Post

The mood was cautiously optimistic at the close of Tuesday’s special meeting of the Los Alamos School Board.

The purpose of the meeting was to draft a resolution giving guidance to the District on how to move forward in solving what Board President Jim Hall has called a “crisis” of teacher frustration and work overload, much of it fueled by the new teacher evaluation system implemented by the State of New Mexico Public Education Department (PED).

An outline of the evaluation system is available at

Hall put forward the resolution, which passed unanimously. The vote received an ovation from the 30 to 40 teachers, administrators and members of the public in attendance.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt has already begun setting up a Study Group for Teacher Concerns representing teachers from all of the local schools. The administration will meet separately with school principals to get their input.

“It is my hope that as a staff, we can stand as one when this discussion is over,” Schmidt said. “I want all of us to bring all the ideas we can and put the long list on the table.”

Assistant Superintendent Gerry Washburn gave historical background on the evaluation system issue. When New Mexico accepted $10 million in education dollars from the federal government’s Race to the Top program for grades K-3 and received a waiver of some No Child Left Behind requirements, it agreed to adopt a teacher evaluation system to be implemented in school year 2013-14, Washburn said.

The program was piloted in 47 schools, including several in Los Alamos last year. Director of Curriculum Pam Miller, at that time Principal of Barranca Elementary was one of those involved in the pilot.  Miller is now the point person for  issues with the teacher evaluation software, TeachScape. The program was not available during the pilot and in fact, did not become available until this fall, Miller said. Calling TeachScape “a work in progress,” Miller said things are improving. The district is down to five teachers from 40 who cannot log into the system.

Miller also pointed out that the pilot addressed only two of four parts of the evaluation, Domains Two and Three, not the entire evaluation. Those doing the pilot did realize how much time the evaluation process would take on the part of teachers and principals, Miller said.

There is room for school districts to request changes in the process, but the changes must be approved by the Public Education Department. Some of the requests made by Los Alamos last year, including having peer review as part of the evaluation process were denied, Schmidt said. The administration feels that by trying out the evaluation system, the district will have more credibility when it goes to PED with new requests.

“Our voice carries a lot of weight,” Schmidt said.

A number of teachers and principals expressed frustration with the evaluation model, under which something must be directly observed in the classroom in order to be counted on the evaluation.

“They are asking us to do things we cannot do,” Mountain Elementary Teacher Kimberly Clayton said.

For example, one criterion is helping other teachers to design their classroom space. This is obviously not going to be visible during an observation, she said.

Principals from Los Alamos Middle School, Los Alamos High School and several elementary schools spoke about their experience with the evaluation system. The principals said the evaluations are extremely time-consuming. The principals do three full evaluations and two “walk-through” evaluations of each teacher. Evaluations take at least three hours for either type, the principals agreed. The principals said they love spending time in the classroom, but the process just takes too much time. The principals urged reducing the number of evaluations.

“There’s no way I can sit down with the teachers and talk to them about the evaluation,” Mountain Elementary Principal James Ivanovich said. “It just takes too much time.”

Hall summed up for the board, saying “From my perspective, what’s going on is that New Mexico is frustrated with the lack of progress on education. This has brought about some good ideas and a lot of spasmodic flailing.”

Effective teaching and maximizing teacher time with kids should be the guiding principles of Board policy, Hall said.

“Our fundamental responsibility is to our students and our community,” he said.

The resolution that passed Tuesday directed the administration to:

  • Review district-promulgated programs and policies that reduce instructional time with students;
  • Identify district discretionary programs that can be suspended, delayed or scaled back;
  • Review state-mandated programs and identify minimum requirements to accomplish program direction; and
  • Identify requirements that cause significant reduction in teacher’s available instructional time.

And, direct administration to come before the Board at the Nov. 12 meeting with the following response:

  • District discretionary programs that have been suspended;
  • District discretionary programs requiring Board review and approval before being suspended; and
  • State program requirements that are having an undue impact on instructional time, and further.

And that the administration comes before the Board with a draft letter to the Public Education Department stating the district’s commitment to:

  • excellence in education;
  • achievement and growth for all students;
  • an effective, research-based teacher evaluation system coordinated with an individualized professional development program for instructional staff;
  • an ongoing school evaluation system that takes into account student achievement of all students, family involvement, and administrative performance;
  • accountability for all LAPS programs and personnel;

and stating the district’s intent to:

  • request waivers of certain requirements, programs, and/or program elements because of resource limitations and undue impact on instructional time;
  • implement key elements of the instructional personnel evaluation system in a professional and through manner with the intent of identifying; and strengths and weaknesses and using our experience to propose  an improved alternative for use at LAPS for the FY15 school year.

And stating our ongoing commitment to work with the Public Education Department as an educational partner.

To view videos from last nights board meeting click HERE.

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