Author: Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski

We’re Listening & Your Voice Matters: A Legislative Update From The Secretary

We’re Listening & Your Voice Matters: A Legislative Update From The Secretary


Here’s the reality: HB310 is by far the most comprehensive, the most far-reaching, and the largest teacher compensation bill under consideration this legislative session.

That’s why I decided to testify on behalf of the diverse group of sponsors–Representatives Baldonado (Valencia), Clahchischilliage (San Juan), and Smith (Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe)—on Saturday morning:  because this kind of legislation has the potential to be transformative for educators, for students, and for this profession that we love.

It’s also important to note that the tabling of HB310 is part of a broader trend of unabashed partisanship that we have witnessed this session.  As a former middle school social studies teacher I am idealistic about the democratic process, and I believed that HB210 (Early Literacy Interventions & Family Engagement), HB 297 (Addressing Chronic Absenteeism), HB180 (More Funding For Schools, Less For District Offices), and HB177 (Teacher Advancement w/o Master’s Degree) would all garner enthusiastic bipartisan support.  After all, I’ve worked for leaders from both sides of the aisle who have supported similar ideas.  Two of these bills had bipartisan sponsors, and all four were revised based on feedback from legislators and the field.

Unfortunately, all of these bills were stopped in their tracks by hyper-partisanship at the Roundhouse this year.

HB310 did several things that I thought were noteworthy, and several things that stakeholders and legislators on both sides of the aisle had requested:

  1. Increased the starting salary of Level 1 teachers by $4,000 to $38,000, permanently
  2. Guaranteed a 2.5% salary increase to all educators, permanently
  3. Guaranteed a 2% salary increase to all non-licensed school staff, permanently
  4. Included a $5 million appropriation for teacher recruitment activities (and an amendment from the committee integrated teacher mentoring as well!)
  5. Increased the starting salaries of Level 2 and Level 3 teachers by $2,000, permanently


The House Education Committee had the responsibility to consider this bill on its educational merits.  A multi-pronged approach to improving teacher compensation is both necessary and overdue.  I believed it would generate bipartisan support and sufficient funding—but it was tabled in hyper-partisan fashion, same as the rest.

If you’re fuming, I get it.  You are working hard, advocating for your kids, trying to get involved while still working a full day.  Meanwhile, you’re up against powerful special interests groups that camp out in the Roundhouse for the full session.  It’s a situation that’s rigged against our students and, in many ways, our profession.

I still believe HB310 to be the strongest piece of teacher compensation legislation around, and given that many of you have reached out to me, it seems you may think so, too.  People have asked me—what can we do to keep this possibility alive, both in the short-term and the long-term?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The House Education Committee members who tabled the bill could bring HB310 “off the table”
  • AFT/ATF was the only group that stood-up in opposition to HB310, yet they had substantial influence:
  • The Executive Budget recommendation included a multi-pronged approach to teacher compensation, and we will continue to fight for it
  • Over the long-term, more teacher and parent voice is needed in these processes—both during session and during the interim


All this being said, your advocacy and belief in elevating teacher and parent voices have not been for nothing.  We’re still working with the Legislature on a 2018-19 (FY19) budget that would include a large teacher compensation increase, a substantial increase in Pre-K funding, higher levels of funding for transportation and instructional materials, and the preservation of the successful programs that have driven outcomes in your schools (from AP fee waivers to Reads to Lead).  More than ever in our state’s history, there is a diversity of teacher and parent voices being heard on issues that impact our students.  Student achievement results are on the rise, we have the #1 State Plan under ESSA in the nation, and you’re building a community of educators and families that are demanding more for our kids.

It’s an honor and a privilege to work on your behalf every day.  Let your voices be heard—and remember that our civic and moral outrage must be sustained over time.  Our students need us to keep up the fight.

In partnership—


Christopher N. Ruszkowski
Secretary of Education
New Mexico Public Education Department

2018 NM Teacher Summit: Call For Presenters

2018 NM Teacher Summit: Call For Presenters



The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) is seeking creative and innovative presenters for the Third Annual NM Teacher Summit which will take place at the Albuquerque Convention Center from June 18-19, with a projected attendance of 1350 participants. The 2018 Teacher Summit theme is Teaching with Purpose.

Phase 1 of the call for presenters will remain open until Friday, March 23, 2018. Applicants that are chosen for Phase 2 are required to submit presentation materials by Friday, April 20, 2018. The process is described below.



February 10—March 23:

Phase 1 submission window

March 23—March 31:   

Phase 1 submission review

April 5:   

Notification of acceptance to Phase 2; request for presentation materials

April 5—April 20:

Phase 2 presentation materials submission window

April 20—April 30:

Phase 2 submission review

May 4:  

Notification of presentation slot(s)

May 25:  

Final presentation PPT and hand-outs (if applicable) due to NMPED

Presentation topics:

Applicants are invited to choose a topic within their skill set and area of expertise. The topic should be relevant and applicable to New Mexico teachers’ classroom practice. The NMPED will support presenters with data and expertise, as needed. Below are a few suggested topics* that presenters may choose from:

·         Your content area or area of expertise ·         Native/Tribal Students
·         Classroom Practice ·         Special Education
·         Education Policy ·         Family Engagement
·         Teacher Leadership ·         Planning & Preparation
·         Assessments/Data to Drive Instruction ·         Formative & Short-Cycle Assessment
·         English Learners ·         Creating an Environment for Learning
·         *Any other topic or area of expertise

Session formats:

Teaching for Learning Sessions 90-Minutes—PreK-12 classroom methods, strategies, and techniques. This format allows enough time to teach a unit, include a make-n-take or other hands-on activities, use grouping techniques, etc.
Moderated Panels 60-minutes—a moderated panel of experts focused on current public education topics, initiatives, or policy. This format allows for the presenter to interview or lead a Q & A of panel of experts. The NMPED will support the presenter with the selection of panel members, if needed.
Information Sharing 60-minutes—a presentation or mini-lesson with Q & A time. This format allows for a presenter to model teaching practices during a presentation or mini-lesson.
The Learning Lounge 10-15 minutes—informal teaching and sharing by community partners, district & school leaders, or teachers at tables and in lounge areas before conference begins on Day 1 & Day 2.

Instructions for completing & submitting your application:

  1. Review the Blooms-Taxonomy-Teacher-Planning-Kit resource and use it as a guide when framing your submission.
  2. Review the 2018 Teacher Summit Proposal Rubric.
  3. Complete the Google Form Call for Presenters Application. (Google form submits automatically.)

Please note: Presenters and facilitators accepted through the voluntary call for presenters Phase 1 & 2 will be provided hotel accommodations for night of Monday June 18th. Accepted presenters/facilitators will also receive complimentary registration and are welcome to have lunch/dinner when provided during the Summit.


Teacher Spotlight: Stephanie Gurule-Leyba

Teacher Spotlight: Stephanie Gurule-Leyba

Every one of my students has a story.  I believe that by inspiring and elevating my students, their stories will be heard.  My motto: Listen, Learn, and Lead!

Stephanie Gurule-Leyba was raised in Las Vegas, New Mexico and is in her 22nd year at Capital High School in the Santa Fe Public Schools. She is a Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences certified teacher and teaches in the Medical Science Academy, a five-course STEAM-H pathway and is also the founder of Scrub Club, a three-summer STEAM-H enrichment program for 4th through 8th grade students. Stephanie is licensed in K-12 Science, Special Education, and Rehabilitation Counseling. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Learning, Instruction, and Innovation.  Stephanie is a graduate of Robertson High School in Las Vegas and has always admired her teachers, including her father, for really instilling in her life lessons that she shares with her students. She discovered that she enjoyed working with students and had exciting ideas that she wanted to share. Stephanie is very passionate about STEAM-H and career readiness and as a teacher she has the opportunity to share that passion with her students.

Stephanie believes that the job of a teacher does not end when the bell rings for the day. Everyday we teach, encourage, instruct, mentor, praise, influence, guide and inspire. Those who say, “Teaching is easy,” have never been a teacher. Those who say, “Teaching is not rewarding,” have never been a teacher. But, if these same people were to see and experience students’ intellectual growth, maturity, and an ownership of their learning, many would agree that teaching is the most fulfilling job because you have molded the mind and touched the heart of a student forever. Our students need to understand that they will never finish what they started. They will always be learning. It is important that we instill a culture of learning with our students and with their families and community. We are all teachers and our students are our future.

The relationships we build with our students is the key to their success; but student success is also reliant on the relationships that are built with our families and communities. Many look to teachers as those who are supposed to educate our children, but it is important that we work together in educating and raising our children to prepare them for their future. One person cannot do it alone; it takes a community to raise a child.

Lesson Planning with Hannah Peria

Lesson Planning with Hannah Peria

We are excited to share the fourth in our series of podcasts and webinars related to educational issues.  Please listen in as we interview the movers and shakers in New Mexico education.  Our fourth broadcast features Hannah Peria, Deputy Director of Priority Schools, where she reviews how the most successful teaching begins with clarity about desired learning outcomes and about the evidence that will show that learning has occurred.

Lesson Planning Webinar

Whole Brain Teaching: Roxanne Mitchell

Whole Brain Teaching: Roxanne Mitchell

Walk into any room at Sandia Elementary or an assembly including the entire student body, say, “Class”, and then be prepared to be amazed as every student immediately responds, “Yes”. This is just one of the exceptional engagement strategies utilized with Whole Brain Teaching.  The implementation of Whole Brain Teaching in our school has increased student engagement and excitement for learning in every classroom.  In upbeat, highly interactive classrooms, teachers have 100% participation from students at all levels and behavioral types.  Whole Brain Teaching can be used for excellent classroom management, character education, and exemplary lesson design. In nineteen years of teaching, I have never seen strategies so effective that can be adapted to any teacher and grade level.  Whole Brain Teaching is the game changer we have all been searching for in education today.

So here is the real deal. I attended a conference in Las Vegas this summer on Whole Brain Teaching.  From the first moments, I knew it was different.  Twenty minutes into the conference, I was texting my principal asking if we could be a pilot Whole Brain Teaching school.  All the while, I was trying to figure out how to use what I knew worked and incorporate what I was learning. I knew how to teach.  I had a lot of success. I am not saying this to brag in anyway, but I felt confident in my ability as a teacher and I knew great teaching.  I had scored exemplary for several years on my evaluation and was a 2017 Teacher of the Year finalist.  Boy, I was in for a wake up call.  All of the teachers attending the conference knew there were changes to make.  We returned to school and started our K-3 Plus program within a few weeks.  I was the administrator for the summer program. I wanted to use Whole Brain Teaching in my classroom to some extent until I saw it in action.  I walked in classrooms the first day of K-3 Plus using Whole Brain Teaching, and I was JEALOUS. As a teacher at heart, I wanted KIDS.  I wanted to teach the way the young teachers on our staff were impacting kids!  I remember that feeling, and I have been striving to achieve it from that day forward.  I cannot express how much I love my profession.  I have high standards for my students and I demand participation in class.  The difference now is the love of learning in our school and my classroom.  I asked the kids this afternoon what was better about Whole Brain Teaching than a traditional classroom. They surprised me as they so often do.  Their responses were varied, but included things like:

  • “The Golden Gritty game makes me realize I can do things that I did not think I could do.”
  • “Mirror Words lets me be physical, teach my partner, and totally focus on my learning.”
  • “Zowies and Triple Whammies took me from spending forever writing a paragraph to do it in minutes.”
  • “I can see a difference in the character of my classmates thanks to daily use of our Character Virtues.”

I know many of these terms sound foreign to individuals without experience with Whole Brain Teaching. Some days it still feels that way to me. But if you have taken time to read these words, please know it has changed me forever as a teacher, and more importantly, it has changed my students for the better.  That is something that can never be undone.  I have poured out my heart for the Whole Brain Teaching movement.  Please take time to look at it carefully.  You never know, your students may never be the same!

Check out for more information or contact Sandia Elementary, New Mexico’s own Whole Brain Teaching Pilot School. (575-769-4480)

Leadership and Growth with Celestina Garcia

Leadership and Growth with Celestina Garcia

Celestina Garcia works with our teachers, families, and students around the state to develop growth and leadership skills, as well as, to equip, empower, and champion life-long learning practices useful in all areas of life.

The educational practice of reflection and evaluation supports ourselves and our students in developing key insights and wisdom to unlock the potentials in learning.

We invite you to watch and participate in the first in a series of webinars which will support educators as they take an hour to dive deep into their own practice of reflection and evaluation of 2017, build insights and wisdom around what worked and did not in the space of the year, and build out a vision for 2018 utilizing intention and leadership practices learned in our in person workshop. Enjoy!

Growth and Leadership Webinar #1 hosted by Celestina Garcia



Being a teacher and musician gives me the platforms necessary to invoke change in the most positive manner possible. We develop life-long learners who are inspired to continue to learn with the mind-set to invoke newly acquired knowledge into positive change. As educators, we are agents of change who transform our students into the next generation of agents of change, and so the cycle continues. We are public servants who are given the task of creating intelligent thinkers who become positive contributors to society. This is the legacy that we as educators will leave behind for others to foster and build upon.”

Joe Dan M. Lovato is a full-time science educator and musician originally from Roy, New Mexico. He earned a BA in Education from ENMU in 2007, a MA in Education (Curriculum and Instruction) from ENMU in 2014, and he is currently finishing his Educational Administration Licensure requirements from ENMU as well. He possesses a Level III-A license in both K-8 Elementary and Pre K-12 Special Education along with endorsements in Science and Health. Joe Dan is in his 10th
year of teaching at La Resolana Leadership Academy. LRLA is a charter middle school located in the heart of Albuquerque. Along with teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science at the school; he also teaches the 8th
grade Next-Step class, the STEAM-H elective with a focus on agriculture and climate change, and incentive electives in cryptozoology, extraterrestrial/paranormal investigations, and a guitar workshop. The New Mexico Public Education Department recognized Joe Dan as a finalist for the 2018 New Mexico Teacher of the Year. He was also nominated for the 2017 New Mexico Academy of Science Outstanding Science Teacher.
Joe Dan is also a singer, song writer, and guitarist who has played with a variety of musicians and he’s shared the stage with many different bands and artists throughout the years. He was a member of the local progressive rock band Blackwater Draw (2006-2015) and he has since embarked on a solo career under the moniker “Joe Dan The Man”. He released his debut, self-titled EP in 2015 with positive reviews and is currently working on a full-length album.

Joe Dan is getting used to his new job and title, “dad”, as he and his wife Brandi brought their first child, Joe Danna Lee Lovato, into this world. Much of what Joe Dan does at his small school revolves around the concept of family. Community, in essence, is family. He presents experiential learning opportunities to his students through the field trips and projects that he celebrates at his school. He has experienced many personal accomplishments throughout his teaching career; each with different magnitudes of gratification for knowing that the world is a better place because of the individuals that he came into contact with. His passion for knowledge and sharing that knowledge is contagious to others.

Family Engagement with Gloria Ruiz

Family Engagement with Gloria Ruiz

We are excited to share the third in our series of podcasts related to educational issues.  Please listen in as we interview the movers and shakers in New Mexico education.  Our third podcast features Gloria Ruiz, Family Engagement Coordinator, where she provides an overview how parental involvement has evolved to family engagement and explains how teachers can make tweaks to their current practices to elevate their work with parents and families.





How to Bring Socratic Seminar to Your Classroom

People sometimes ask me what Socratic seminar is, whether it would work for any grade or subject area, and most of all: is it worth the effort?

Socratic seminar is named for the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates, one of the most famous teachers of the Western world. Socrates did not teach by lecturing. He taught by questioning.  And his questioning sometimes seemed to draw wisdom out of his students that they did not know they had. Socrates still embodies what we mean when we call someone a philosopher, a name that the ancient Greeks coined from two root words: philos and sophos.  Philos meant love, as in philanthropy, the love of mankind.  Sophos meant wisdom. Philosophers are therefore lovers of wisdom, and this is exactly why you should bring the Socratic Method into your classroom.

So what does the Socratic Method look like in your classroom? Picture students sitting in a circle, or around a large table, or if that’s not possible, sitting around the edges of the room looking towards the center so that they can make eye contact with one another.  A student or a teacher asks an “opening question.”  This does not have to be the only question discussed, but begins a discussion.  You have classroom discussions all the time, but this is a formalized discussion, and one that takes the time to reach a much deeper level of understanding.

Why teach your students to participate in this kind of formal discussion? Socratic seminar:

  • Is enjoyed by students
  • Teaches the art of questioning
  • Teaches higher-level thought, which is a skill
  • Allows students to speak to each other, rather than to the teacher, in a formal setting
  • Can unite the class as a team looking for the truth or truths
  • Engages students with a topic in a new way
  • Appeals to students who struggle with academics
  • Is a kind of “writing aloud” activity, so is a great lead-in to writing on a following day
  • Can be modified for nearly all ages
  • Can be modified for all levels of shyness
  • Leaves students asking for more.

Whether it is a high school or an elementary classroom, and whether it is an English class, science, art, or history, this method of discussion and teamwork resonates with students, and will engage them at a higher level.

But how to teach this? Questioning is a skill in itself and an exercise in higher level thought.   Ideally, have the students write their own questions for their seminar, either individually or in a group. They will require instruction on what an “essential universal question” is; it is not a yes or no question, but one that opens up a deeper discussion.  For example, if the student suggests the question, “Is Naomi’s mother nice?” other students (or you, the facilitator) can deepen that question by asking, “Was Naomi’s mother a good mother?”  To make the question universal, it becomes, “What is a good mother?” and even, “What makes a good person?”

I sometimes project everyone’s questions on a screen; this allows students to reflect on just how much there is to discuss. If you use Google Classroom, students can post their questions to a public forum or list that you can then project.

Don’t be afraid to delve into the impossible. Students are just as equipped as we are to explore the deepest questions of humanity; what they lack in experience, they make up for in directness, curiosity, and simplicity.

Allow students (and yourself) to luxuriate in those questions that so often do not get asked:   Why are we here?   What is morality?  What are good and evil?  Is there a right and a wrong?  What are the problems with saying that there is not a right and a wrong?  What makes a hero?  Is love important?  Where does prejudice come from?  Is it possible to achieve peace?  My ninth graders this year repeatedly asked to discuss the meaning of life, and though there was some humor and irreverence in the discussion, there was also a real discussion taking place, surprising them, I think, though they may have thought they were surprising me.

The day before the seminar, go over the rules.

1. Students should speak to each other instead of to the teacher. Since this will take them some time to get used to, you as the facilitator can give them gentle reminders.

2. Students must react to what is said rather than ignoring it and jumping in with an unrelated statement.  Teach them how this sounds in practice: “I agree with Maya, but I think that….”  Or, “I think both Cyrus and Juan are right, and I want to add….”   Or, “I think so far we are missing the point, because…”

3.  Students do not need to raise hands as long as they take turns.

4.  While everyone should participate for an A, no one should dominate.  This is their chance to learn to have a balanced role.

5. Disagreements are normal and expected, even encouraged.  But no one should insult or disrespect another person for their opinion, and certainly not for a belief system.

6.  Remind students that if they can learn to discuss difficult issues and ideas with their peers, they can become leaders, and just possibly save the world, or at least their own community.

7.  Encourage students to act as a team.  In the middle of the circle or table are ideas, and the team is grappling with them together.

What about the shy? You as facilitator can sometimes stop the seminar to allow those who have not spoken to get a word in edgewise.  You can even call on the shyest members of the class directly, explaining that you can raise their grade if they can express an opinion on the current question, and more importantly, that their voice matters.

Too many kids in the classroom? There are various tricks you can try, such as outer circle and inner circle, where the outer circle takes notes on the inner circle’s seminar.  You can also use Popsicle sticks or paper clips if you feel you need to monitor how many times students speak.  More mature students can run their own seminars so that you can have several in one classroom.

Finally, let your students know that silence is an accepted part of Socratic seminar. There is a tendency to panic when there is silence, but people need time to process and think.   Try to avoid jumping in to give them answers.  They will likely leave the class inspired with a new “love of wisdom”

Animas is “A” Strong

Animas is “A” Strong

Animas is “A” Strong

                For the past six years, under the new school grading system, Animas High School has received an A for all but one year, receiving a B just once. The Straight “A” Express made its stop in the small town of Animas on Wednesday, November 29th to celebrate their continued success and to learn just what is working in Animas.  This rural, agricultural area features the school as the hub of the community surrounded by only one café, a small convenience store, a feed/hardware store and three necessary utility companies. Animas Public Schools draws students from several surrounding towns, traveling up to 75 miles one-way to school.  The total K-12 population at Animas Public Schools is 179 students.  The high school is a 7-12th grade setting and teachers teach all grade levels and cover generally 6 different preps each day. However, the teachers and staff at Animas feel blessed to work with such polite, hard-working and spirited students.

My name is Alysha Wagley. I am a 14-year teacher at Animas High School, member of the Secretary’s Advisory team, and Animas alumnus.  I would like to share the following as to what I believe is driving our continued “A” status:

  • High Expectations from teachers, staff and the community of students and staff
  • Busy Students: they must be involved in multiple extra-curricular in order for all programs to be successful. Even the average student is in sports, drama, mock trial, STUCO, and often FFA all at once. Most work to help support themselves and their families. Students have no choice but to learn to multi-task and have confidence in themselves and each other.
  • Highly discourage the “teach to the test” mentality. Instead, we do rigorous reading and writing preparation. English, Science and history all give timed 5-parapgrah essays periodically as regular classroom assessments and generally in the computer-lab.
  • Teacher voice and trying to keep all our arrows going in the same directions
    • DASH Team includes core teachers, and DASH goals are truly aligned to student and teacher needs for improvement
    • Aligning a portion of our PDP to student needs per data analysis
    • Analyzing Data as a staff through PLC’s
    • Communication among teachers about shared students
    • Setting Staff goals in a certain area and all working together, for example: 5-paragraph essay, academic testing vocabulary, information text and currently short-essay response.
    • Concentrating as a staff on collaboration, bell-to-bell instruction and DOK
  • Extensive SAT Plans and IEPs that are team driven
  • All students who score 2 or below on PARCC are looked at more closely for a possible SAT plan
  • Anyone who reads below grade-level is looked at more closely for a possible SAT plan and letters are sent to parents regarding below grade-level scores.
  • Use of Math and Language Lab classes as RTI for students below grade-level
  • Taking Advantage of REC Resources, especially for new teacher training
  • Teacher mentorship for all new teachers


    • Below 70% grade list to teachers every two weeks and regular communication with parents for those who fall below a 70%.
  • ACT a priority and encourage all students to take it from 2nd Semester Sophomores to 1st semester Seniors (generally 4 times throughout high school)
  • All sophomores take PSAT and ASVAB for career readiness


  • Respect and support for academics from coaches and sponsors
  • Unfortunately no AP courses, but we do have honors, duel-credit and online opportunities for students to excel, be challenged and have access to classes of choice that our small staff can’t accommodate.
  • Support from administration and school board with a one-team mentality
  • A school spirit that has the students, teachers, staff, administration and community truly caring about the reputation and success of Animas Schools.

Of course, the list can go on and on, but most importantly dedication and respect from students, teachers, staff and community make Animas an excellent school to attend, work at and support. Go Panthers!