State Drops Bombshell On Teachers

Mountain 6th grade science teacher teacher Michele Altherr asks for a show of hands of how many teachers at Tuesday’s school board meeting were there to discuss the state’s teacher evaluation system. Photo by Carol A. Clark/
Los Alamos Daily Post

Los Alamos teachers packed Tuesday’s school board meeting to urge the administration to do something to help them with the state’s latest mandate to the teacher evaluation system.

The state dropped the bombshell last Thursday. Los Alamos Superintendent Dr. Kurt Steinhaus said the information about this new attendance requirement was blurted out during the weekly conference call with superintendents across New Mexico. 

The Secretary of Education holds conference calls with the superintendents on a regular basis. Steinhaus said he had to ask if he heard correctly (that retroactive to July 1, any teacher taking more than three days leave will be penalized a point a day). The answer was yes. 

Teacher after teacher took the podium Tuesday evening to express their feelings of utter frustration, calling the new attendance requirement “ludicrous and unjust and to urge the board to do something to help them. 

“This is something very serious that we have to fix,” Mountain GATE teacher Ali Semanision said. 

Mountain teacher Candace Favorite said, “Teachers feel demoralized. When I left school last Thursday I wanted to quit … I love teaching but my hearts not all the way in it right now.” 

Los Alamos High School teacher Margo Batha said the last couple of weeks have been the worst in her teaching career. She described moral as low among teachers in the district over the evaluation system. 

A teacher who has taught in the district for seven years explained that she rarely missed a day until she was diagnosed with cancer in 2015. Until now the one thing she didn’t have to worry about while undergoing treatment for a life threatening illness was losing her job. 

“I’m asking you to please consider the real life situations that teachers sometimes have,” she said.

Mary Van Eeckhout taught school at LAPS for 15 years and retired 15 years ago. 

“During that time we felt so supported by the schools,” she said. “I don’t know where the olden days have gone but I want them back.” 

“Whatever you do to us – you do to our students … if I have to come to school sick – my kids get sick,” Andrea Determan said. “This evaluation system needs to stop.”

PED Commissioner Karyl Ann Armbruster, a former Los Alamos teacher, told the board she realizes they are supportive but that their hands are mostly tied and that they have very little influence on the issue at the state level. 

Chamisa Principal Suzanne Lynne garnered applause when she told the teachers, “The school board is behind us.” 

LAPS Board President Jim Hall explained that because the teacher evaluation topic was not on the agenda – the board was not able to talk about it at the meeting. He said it would be placed on a future agenda. 

He did discuss the issue with the Los Alamos Daily Post during a follow up interview Wednesday. “I am disappointed by the lack of authority local boards have in making decisions for their schools … especially for high performing school districts,” Hall said. “We will continue to work to get more flexibility for our schools.” 

Steinhaus told the teachers that he and the board are working for more flexibility for the district similar to charter schools. He added that the way to change this situation is to work through the legislature.

Dist. 43 Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard attended Tuesday’s meeting and spoke with the teachers. 

“I am here to commit my support to work with the board and Dr. Steinhaus on the ‘Leave Me Alone Bill’ to get us some exemptions like the charter schools,” she said, and thanked the board for their support of the local teachers. 

Steinhaus thanked the teachers in the room “for not quitting and for getting up and coming to school this morning.” 

He ended the discussion explaining that the district has been braced to take a $1.2 million loss from the state during the recent Special Session of the Legislature. The cut turned out to be about $415,000 instead.

“We can absorbed this … there will need to be some belt tightening but there will be no staff layoffs,” Steinhaus said.