Tag: Champion

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

Every Student Deserves a High-Performing School

The Release of School Grades

School Grades were recently released to the public.

Our school accountability system has earned a lot of praise for being clear and understandable for families—and this year our reports are even more family friendly following our yearlong ESSA tour. Check out the great coverage all over the state in the ABQ Journal, the Associated Press, KOAT, KOB, KRQE, the Deming Headlight, the Carlsbad Current Argus, the Farmington Daily News, and the Alamogordo Daily News.  The story on Gil Sanchez Elementary might be my favorite yet as we seek to identify and scale best practices across the state.

Background on School Grading

School Grading is part of state and federal statute that mandates accountability for all public schools.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), originally enacted in 1965, requires schools to show annual improvement in mathematics and reading. In 2011, New Mexico lawmakers enacted additional requirements that schools demonstrate progress through a grading system similar to that applied to students, A-B-C-D-F.

School Grades provide a consistent measure (now over six years) for all public schools across the state so that we can see which schools are doing well and which schools are struggling and need support.

Working for Success

Schools that embrace change, get results. School improvement is a CHOICE. Our districts and schools that continue to embrace change and new opportunities for kids are continuing to see success.

Our 15 largest districts are serving more than 60% of students in the state. The following large districts are examples of those that have embraced change over the years and are now showing strong improvements – not only increasing the number of “A” schools within their districts – but also by drastically reducing the amount of “F” schools within their districts:

  • Farmington has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 6% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   In 2012, Farmington had no “A” schools, today 37% of its schools are “A” schools

  • Gadsden has eliminated “F” schools and increased the amount of “A” schools

o   In 2012, 9% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 4%

  • Alamogordo has eliminated “F” schools.

o   In 2012, 13% of its schools were “F” schools, today the district has 0 “F” schools

o   The district has grown the number of “A” schools by 14%

Our Students Deserve Better

Our most struggling students deserve better. Many of NM’s schools are not doing a good job serving their lowest performing students that are well below grade level in math and reading.

Here’s what we can do, together, about the growing divide of schools on the rise and those that are not making progress or are sliding backwards:

  1. When schools are struggling, they can choose to improve.  Over the past five years, New Mexico has invested significant resources and developed proven programs and that are getting results for kids.  Principals Pursuing Excellence (PPE) and Teacher Pursuing Excellence (TPE) are two examples of those—school turnaround programs available for struggling schools that are ready to change and grow.
  2. Under NM’s top-rated State ESSA Plan, districts are required to take action when a school persistently earns “F’s” 4, 5 or 6 years in a row.  Several of New Mexico’s schools will be under the umbrella of the “More Rigorous Interventions” category—which requires district’s to choose a different path forward.
  3. When our kids are trapped in persistently failing schools, they have options under state law.  Students enrolled in schools that have earned two “F” grades in the last four years have the right to attend a different school.
  4. When charter schools are persistently “D” and “F”, the NM PED has a moral and educational responsibility to recommend to the Public Education Commission (PEC) that their charter be considered for revocation.

What You Can Do

The release of school grades can be an exciting time for some, but we also recognize it can be a sobering time for others.

If your school received a lower grade, put yourself in the shoes of a student who received a similar grade. What would you say to them? How would you encourage them? What immediate actions would you ask them to take? Give yourself (and any colleagues that need it) the same advice.

Once you’ve processed, here are easy and quick ways to start leaning in as a teacher, to lead toward improvement:

  1. Next time you see your principal, let them know you are ready and willing to help. Ask them what you can do to help improve!
  2. Dive into the full School Grade Report, not just the first page. Identify ONE thing to celebrate and ONE area for improvement.
  3. BE A GREAT TEACHER. Dive into your student level data, identify what your kiddos need and deliver. Your students can have a positive impact on the whole school’s grade.
  4. Last, but not least. Remember, we at the NM PED are here to help! We can provide a pick me up, encouragement or expert help! Just ask!

Hear It From Teachers

Check out what teachers around NM have to say about their school’s grade.

My school went from a D to a C….. we know we are moving up to a B next year!  We are positive! We are working harder than ever….. although our amazing principal did say in today’s meeting…. “It’s not about our grade, it’s about making sure we are preparing these students!”  So, in reality, our prayer and hope to move to a B, is just our journey and knowing we are doing everything we can to get these kiddos moving in the right direction!  Work hard…. 3 year old program- to our 6th grade programs. Just work hard!  Hurley Elementary School, Cobre Consolidated Schools

Deming Intermediate went from an F to being less than 2 points away from a C.  So proud of my school!!! Deming Intermediate School, Deming Public Schools

We went up, in both our elementary and middle school, from a D to a B!!!!!  Pretty dang proud of our students and staff! Eagle Nest Elementary and Middle School, Cimarron Public Schools

My school went from a D to a C. We as a school are prepared to work even harder to move up to a B or even an A. Colinas del Norte Elementary School, Rio Rancho Public Schools

Our little school went back up to an A as well. The staff is excited and so are the kids! Reserve High School, Reserve Public Schools

Our school moved up from a D to a C, missing a B by 5 points. We are determined to get that B or A next year. We are the largest school in SFPS with the highest ELL and Special Learning population in the district! We are so proud of our students and teachers! Capital High School, Santa Fe Public Schools

NM MESA HIGH SCHOOL TEAM ARE REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

NM MESA HIGH SCHOOL TEAM ARE REPEAT NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!

New Mexico MESA students from Deming High School are celebrating another huge accomplishment. At the 2017 MESA USA National Engineering Design Competition in Philadelphia, the Deming High School team again won first place honors.

The team captain, David Velez, Junior, Deming High, said “We entered the competition with one goal in mind, to defend our National Championship, and we did just that! Back to Back National Champions – it’s a dream come true.” His teammate, Adrian Luna had a sense of relief after the competition. He said “I didn’t realize the level of skill and talent we were going to compete against. I was totally nervous but we did it. Repeat national champions!” The other two teammates, Adriana Darrow and Antoni Varela and advisor, David Jaramillo could hardly contain their excitement.

The New Mexico middle school team was successful also. They came in 2nd place after California. It was so close in the scoring (8 point difference) between the 1st place and 2nd place. But these young men of Chaparral Middle School from Chaparral, NM took the whole experience in with wide lenses. The team of Kevin Ramos, Alfredo Sepulveda, and Luis Jimenez shared they will be back to take the 1st place trophy back to Chaparral. Their advisor, Rina Viramontes said “The competition gave my students the opportunity to work on a real world problem and accomplish something that they felt good about.  They worked with tools and computer applications that college students are working with. The students worked hard and I am extremely proud of them.”

The engineering challenge is to build a prosthetic arm within a certain budget and under a certain weight. The arm has to perform tasks such as relocating objects, throwing objects at a target, and screwing a nut onto a bolt through a wood board, totally under the command of a microprocessor using computer programming. The competition does not stop there. Each team is required to write a 5 – 15 page technical paper, create a poster display, and develop a 10 minute oral presentation.

The New Mexico teams competed against other MESA teams from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and Illinois.

NM MESA’s mission is to “Empower and motivate New Mexico’s culturally diverse students with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) enrichment.”

NM MESA is a year-round, multi-year, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiative that works with school districts and higher education institutions to improve NM student STEM performance; increase NM college STEM enrollment; and provide hands-on STEM competitions.

For more on NM MESA, click HERE.

For more on what NM PED offers regarding STEM, click HERE.

Top 10 Highlights of the NM Teacher Summit

Top 10 Highlights of the NM Teacher Summit

In case you missed it, June 26th and 27th marked our Second Annual NM Teacher Summit. The event was huge success with 1,000 teachers from all over the state coming together to celebrate one another and continue to grow in their craft and career.

Check out the 10 Ten things about the 2nd Annual Teacher Summit:

  1. 1,000 attendees

    This year, the summit grew to 3x the size of last year. It was a true joy to see 1,000 teachers gathered full of positivity and excitement! Two years ago, the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory said they wanted a summer conference, we would never have dreamed that just two years later we’d be standing on stage looking at a crowd of 1,000 teachers!

  2. Improved Communication

    In my role, I often hear from teachers that they feel “out of the loop”. I had many conversations over two days in which teachers said they finally feel like they know what is going on and feel included in the path ahead!

  3. Acting Secretary Ruszkowski’s first keynote address

    It was great to see Acting Secretary Ruszkowski deliver his first ever keynote address as Acting Secretary during the Summit’s opening session and to learn more about his personal story and passion for education. Later, he spent time in small group sessions with teachers answering tough questions with finesse and commitment. Teachers really enjoyed meeting one on one.

  4. New Teacher Leader Opportunities

    We shared so many opportunities for teachers to be change agents for education in New Mexico at the Summit. Teach Plus shared their application for the 2nd cohort of the New Mexico Teach Plus Fellowship. The New Mexico Literacy Dream Team shared the 36 close reading lesson plans and announced the launch of the 2nd New Mexico Dream Team which will focus on Social Studies. Stay tuned for the application. We also announced the expansion of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network and the 2nd Cohort of the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory. The 2nd Cohort of the STA will be selected by the end of the month and the application with for the expansion of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network will be out this Fall.

  5. Empowered Teachers 

    Through the course of the conference we were able to see teachers realize that they have so much power to impact change for their students and schools. I really enjoyed watching teachers lean into their power as teachers and begin to empower others.

  6. Secretary Skandera’s Final Interview with Romy Drucker from The 74 Million

    Although her last day on the job was June 20th, Secretary Skandera was present at the New Mexico Teacher Summit and did a final interview with the CEO of the online education site, The 74 Million, Romy Drucker. Secretary Skandera reflected on her time in New Mexico, shared her lessons learned, and thanked the teachers for attending and creating so many opportunities for teachers to be equipped, empowered and championed.

  7. National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee 

    It was such an honor to have the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, join us for the Summit. Sydney delivered the keynote address at our celebration dinner on night 1 of the summit. During her keynote, Sydney talked about the power of teacher voice and encouraged all teachers to get involved.

  8. More than 36 awesome break out sessions

    PED Staff and external partners came together to host more than 36 breakout sessions on everything form iStation and PARCC, to Teacher Evaluation and School Grades, small group sessions with Acting Secretary Ruszkowski and focus groups on new literacy programs. We also had sessions on Teacher Leader opportunities, Curriculum and Lesson Planning and so much more. All sessions were kicked off by a teacher leader, which was a great way to highlight their effort and commitment.

  9. #NMTeacherSummit

    We had a blast following teacher’s favorite moments and take-aways on Twitter. Participants were encouraged to interact using #NMTeacherSummit allowing others to follow along.

  10. Teachers Leading

    Our teacher leaders were in force at the Summit. They introduced every break out session, introduced every keynote speakers, led teacher shout outs from the stage and assisted their colleagues. Some of our teacher leaders even led break out sessions. This was truly our vision come to life. Teachers equipping, empowering and championing their peers. It was the highlight of my career to watch it unfold.

The NM Teacher Summit equipped, empowered, and championed our teachers, but don’t take my word for it. Check out what teachers had to say about the event:

Santa Fe Teacher

I had an amazing time these past two days! I truly believe that we are on a positive path in New Mexico! 

Las Cruces Teacher

The Summit made me realize I need to get out of my comfort zone after 28 years of teaching. I can’t wait to get the STA application in my hand, and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll apply for the School Liaison. There is so much work to be done, and I want to be part of it!!! 

Albuquerque Teacher

This girl is on FIRE! Based on two of the breakout sessions, I have revamped my first two weeks of lessons. Inquiry based life science with argumentation discussions based on Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning. I am so excited! Also, I’m hoping to take these ideas back to my site and share with my colleagues. Between the STEM Symposium and The Summit, I am fired up! Thank you NMPED and our teacher leaders! 

Artesia Teacher

It was so enjoyable to spend two days in such a positive atmosphere. 

Texico Teacher

I have of being a part of something so incredibly dynamic and motivating! From the beginning to the end, I felt that I was involved in something transformative and inspired. The general sessions were all inclusive and uniting, and the break outs supported so many varied personal interests. The two days were uplifting and affirming as an educator. I feel valued and respected, heard and recognized, and most of all, championed. 

We hope to see you at next year’s Teacher Summit! Date to come soon!

To find resources and presentations from the teacher summit click here.

Guest Post: My Evolution

Guest Post: My Evolution

“You’re a sellout.”

“I thought you represented kids, not politics.”

As I was riding the wave of elation and optimism from this year’s New Mexico Teacher Summit, I discovered these disheartening messages in my inbox. It has been my experience that choosing to embark on a journey of great change will often be met with great opposition. I too was a skeptic. In fact, I vocally opposed any educational policy reform former Secretary Hanna Skandera proposed. As I looked inward to reflect on those feelings, I found that my frustrations were based solely on the projections of others’ reactions. Not one to be complacent, I knew I had to become involved.

I had reservations about applying for the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network. I have since experienced an evolutionary process that has unfolded in transitional phases. When I received notification that I had been selected among a pool of hundreds of applicants across New Mexico, I knew then that this fellowship might actually be something special as the standards for the selection process were high. I made a commitment to myself and my colleagues that I’d enter this new journey with an open mind and heart to allow myself to be fully immersed in whatever this experience might generate.

Our first cohort meeting in Santa Fe was a revelation for me. After listening intently to the testimonials of our Teacher Liaison, Alicia Duran, and fellow members Hope Morales and Ashley Randall, I was sold. Yes, in less than two hours I was sold. Elements of their stories mirrored my own. They encountered the same frustrations that I had felt, but they were putting action behind their discontent. The two-day session was jam packed with information regarding our evaluation system. I was astounded, and a bit ashamed, by how little I knew. Astounded because I knew very little about how much control I had over my own evaluation process. Ashamed because I had developed strong opinions based on very little information. Upon conversing with several members of our fellowship, I found this to be a commonality we shared. We’ve since held our second cohort meeting. I’ve attended webinars and listened in on conference calls to further equip ourselves to empower our colleagues. I made a shift within to begin listening to understand rather than listening to react or respond.

The final phase of my evolution took place at this year’s New Mexico Teacher Summit. Acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowksi’s address to attendees was a pivotal moment for me. He stressed the importance of bipartisanship in education reform. My head shook vigorously in agreement throughout the duration of his speech. I knew then, I was in the right place with the right people. Through this fellowship, I have developed profound friendships and connections that I know will last a lifetime. I believe in these people. I believe in our work. I believe in the foundation and the legacy that former Secretary Skandera laid for us. I believe in continuing and honoring that legacy.

The final part of one of those messages in my inbox accused me of drinking the “proverbial Kool-Aid.” If by drinking the Kool-Aid they mean reaching a state of enlightenment to adequately empower and advocate for kids and teachers in our beautiful state of New Mexico, then kindly serve me up another glass because I’m all in! 

Issac Rivas-Savell is an elementary teacher at Mettie Jordan Elementary in Eunice, NM and serves as a New Mexico Teacher Leader Network State Ambassador. 

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Dear Teachers of New Mexico’s Kids,

It’s been nearly seven years since we first started this journey together in New Mexico. And it’s been a joy and the utmost privilege to serve under Governor Susana Martinez and serve our great state. During this time, we’ve accomplished and fundamentally changed public education in New Mexico.  Together, we now have systems for providing great information for families, communities and educators—and there are unprecedented supports for students and educators to close gaps and provide access and opportunity for all.  Most importantly, we’ve established a new trajectory for success for every child regardless of zip code or circumstance.

While there are always lessons learned looking back, and while recognizing the work for our kids is never done looking forward, I am truly grateful to each one of you who has championed your kids and communities, managed and embraced change for kids in a relatively short amount of time, and continue to fight for all that is possible for your students. Please know that I will continue to support this work and cheer you on and whole-heartedly wish the best for you and the students and families you serve.  Thank you for your commitment, your partnership, and your willingness to put our kids first.

As leaders you know that you are only as good as your team. I am humbled by the team at the PED. It has been a privilege to serve alongside them in doing this work. They have given their hearts and lives with passion and purpose. I am proud of them and proud of what they will continue to do. Specifically, I am excited about passing the baton to Christopher Ruszkowski, my successor. He is as committed to kids and their success as anyone I have ever known. He will not only keep fighting the good fight, he will build on the strong foundation New Mexico has and make it even stronger. If you do not already know CR and the amazing team here at the PED, please know just how deeply they are committed to serving our state and our kids.

It has been an honor. Thank you for the opportunity to serve alongside of you. I wish you the very best going forward and know without a shadow of a doubt that you will continue to do great things!

With gratitude,
Hanna

This letter was originally shared with New Mexico teachers via email from Secretary Skandera on June 20, 2017.

INCYMI: New Mexico’s Teacher Summit featured on Education Post

INCYMI: New Mexico’s Teacher Summit featured on Education Post

In case you miss it, today Education Post featured a guest post by our very own Teacher Liaison, Alicia Duran! The post discusses teacher leadership work in New Mexico and highlights the upcoming Teacher Summit.

If you haven’t seen it, you can check it out here:
In Just 72 Hours This Summit Dedicated to Empowering Teachers Sold Out

Secretary Skandera Celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week

Secretary Skandera Celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week

This letter was written by Secretary Hanna Skandera to honor New Mexico’s teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week and was originally published by the Albuquerque Journal on Monday, May 8th, 2017 at 12:02am.

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week in New Mexico – a perfect opportunity to reflect on the tremendous impact our teachers have in helping every New Mexico child have a chance to succeed in life. Every child in New Mexico – no matter their background – can learn, and the more we stand behind our teachers and support them, the more they have that chance.

Isis Feraudy-Marsilli is a bilingual math teacher in Albuquerque; she sets an example of dedication and leadership that represents some of the best of what our teachers bring into our classrooms every day.No matter what level her students are at when they enter her classroom, she works with them to get them to grade level and reach their fullest potential. “I make my students answer a basic math flashcard before they can come into the classroom,” she says. “They get upset with me, (but, they’re) going to learn the basics AND they’re going to learn geometry. …” I am thankful for teachers like Isis for dedicating themselves to our students and making a difference in the lives of our kids.

Our teachers in New Mexico are making a difference outside the classroom as well. Across the state, teachers are coming together to share ideas and best practices that put our kids first and make our schools stronger. Groups like my Secretary’s Teacher Advisory – volunteer educators looking for opportunities to give feedback, share ideas, improve professional development and communicate with policy makers – are at the forefront of helping us improve education in New Mexico.Because of groups like this, we were able to bring 300 teachers together last year for our first teacher’s summit. A member of the advisory said, “I was super impressed that our vision of getting teachers to start the school year off on a positive, energizing way seemed to work!” After the summit another educator said, “I learned so much and I feel empowered to move forward this next year. Thank you so much for the N.M. Teachers Summit.” And good things are happening for our students because of this summit. Thanks to our continuing partnerships with educators, this year more than three times last year’s number will be able to participate — 1,000 educators registered in only 72 hours!

The Teacher Leader Network is another powerful resource for strengthening partnerships with our educators. Teachers in the network are making sure their colleagues know the latest news in education, and they’re empowered to seek answers. One member told us, “I am happy to be working on making N.M. a better place for kids to get an education.” These educators are making a difference, and I am so excited about what they are doing.We’re also facilitating more professional collaboration and development between our teachers themselves.

The New Mexico Dream Team is another group making great strides to help their colleagues and help students improve. The Dream Team is a group of teachers creating instructional reading supports for teachers across the state.

We’re also working to ensure that we’re listening to our teachers. We recently announced changes to the teacher evaluation system that were created with support and input from teachers across the state. The changes in teacher evaluations are a result of informed teachers bringing their voice and recommendations to the Public Education Department. Specific changes were proposed by members of TeachPlus, an organization of New Mexico educators.

New Mexico’s teachers are among our strongest assets in building a brighter future for our children in communities large and small across the state. As we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, join us in reflecting on how important our teachers are to us all – and to keep doing all we can to continue supporting our teachers as they give our kids the skills they need to reach for their dreams.

Hanna Skandera 
Secretary, New Mexico Department of Public Education

GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!

GUEST POST: Teachers as Leaders, Yes We Can!

When I first heard the modern iteration of the term ‘Teacher Leadership’ at the National Board’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference, my first cynical thought was, “Here They go again… trying to get us to do more work for less money.”   Three years later, I’ve come to believe strongly that teacher leadership is the key to creating a modern, effective American educational system.

Like many experienced teachers, I was a teacher leader before that became a catch phrase.  Almost 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a cadre of ‘Literacy Leaders’ in my district.  There were 12 of us.  Our mission was to disseminate the research on how to teach reading.  It was exciting to be a part of this cohort and it was exciting to bring the teachers at my school together for the first time to discuss our practice and how to make it better.  The week-long summer training I led changed the culture at our school from one of isolation to one of collaboration.

Teachers volunteer at their schools because they want to help their peers be the best they can be for the good of their students.  Often these leaders move on into administrative positions because that is the only opportunity they see to extend their reach.  Many feel the need to expand their impact by formalizing their authority. Unfortunately, too many of these teacher leaders are unhappy in their roles as administrators.  They miss the life of the classroom.  They don’t feel their new roles give them the access they hoped for.  And they are right.  Teachers are more often influenced to improve their practice by other teachers whom they trust and respect.

This is where the true power of teacher leadership lies. Great teachers who improve collaborative practices within schools impact instruction far more than the conventional professional development.  The support that is most needed to improve their teaching is much more involved and intimate than the typical teacher training session.  Strong teachers, who receive training in coaching and adult learning theory, as well as, leading collaborative teams, can help build a culture of ongoing collaborative learning and professional practice in schools.  In this way highly effective teachers can lead courageous change leading to remarkable improvement in student learning.

Since ‘teacher leadership’ has become a movement, there are now a variety of models of teacher leadership around the country.  One is the hybrid role, where teachers teach part of the day and mentor or coach the other part.  In Albuquerque Public Schools, some teacher leaders are full time school-based Instructional Coaches.  Recently, organizations such as Teach Plus and Educators for Excellence have recruited exceptional educators and supported them in influencing policy and school reform in their states.  Teach Plus Fellows recently and successfully advocated for changes to our evaluation system.  The Secretary of Education’s Teacher Advisory is another such advocacy group that the PED started last year.  Both programs will be seeking applicants for new cohorts this summer. Other teachers seek advanced training or National Board Certification and work to help others achieve the same.  Perhaps the most powerful example of teacher leadership has been in the ‘Teacher Led Schools’ movement that has so far been stunningly successful.

New Mexico started its own innovative teacher leadership initiative with the Teacher Leader Network. This network began with 50 high performing teachers who went through a rigorous selection process.  They are brought together in person for 5 full day leadership trainings.  They take part in monthly webinars so they are kept abreast of current information from the the Public Education Department so that they can share it directly with their peers.  The state Public Education Department plans to expand this program so that every school in New Mexico has a designated teacher leader as part of the network.  As a tool for communication, this could yield powerful dividends, especially if the people who lead the Public Education Department make it a venue for not only dispersing information but also as a way to find out what teachers really need and want from our education leaders.  As a way to improve instruction among the rank and file, this network could have profound impact if the teacher leaders are able build trust, and establish collaborative processes in their schools.

If you are a teacher who wants to see some changes in our system, get involved!  Stay on the lookout for opportunities to apply for fellowships and leadership positions.  These opportunities are becoming increasingly more common.  Become National Board Certified, our state is one of the few in which you can receive a healthy stipend for this important achievement.  National Board Certification can open other doors as a leader in our profession.  If you are already National Board Certified consider attending our spring Leadership and advocacy training that will take place in Albuquerque in early June.

My own journey as a teacher leader taught me that teachers in New Mexico still need way more support than they generally receive. They feel powerless to change some of the circumstances within which they work, which leads to increased stress and a too high attrition rate.  In the fall, I will be working towards a Master’s Degree in Educational Policy so I can increase the capacity of teacher leaders in New Mexico. Investing in teacher leaders who create more support for teachers is money well spent.  As teacher leaders we can and must raise our voices to influence public policy in support of our teachers and our schools.

ICYMI: An interview with NM’s Milken Educator 2016: Melissa Kovac

ICYMI: An interview with NM’s Milken Educator 2016: Melissa Kovac

This is a duplication of an interview from a Spotlight interview featuring NM’s own 2016 Milken Educator Award Winner, Melissa Kovac, from Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe:

Second-grade teacher Melissa Kovac knows she’s succeeding as an educator when students come back years later to thank her for helping them reach their goals: “Their second-grade teacher will always be there to cheer them on.” She received New Mexico’s Milken Educator Award at Amy Biehl Community School in Santa Fe on November 2, 2016.

Milken Educator Awards: How did you end up in education?

Melissa Kovac: At a young age I thought about being a teacher. I’m not exactly sure when my “aha” moment was but being a teacher was something I knew I wanted to do since I can remember. I think in high school I realized that it was a definite possibility.

MEA: Why elementary school?

Melissa: The littles were my favorite age. Kindergarten students held my heart for a long time, but now that I’m in second grade…well, they are the best! I started in middle school, but after a year I knew that was not the age of kids I wanted to teach.

My favorite thing is that they still need lots of support but are ready for some real independence. They still like having fun and aren’t too embarrassed to do so. The most frustrating thing: tattle tales.

MEA: What was your first job?

Melissa: I was a poolside waitress for a country club. I think in any job the best thing we learn is to have patience. That’s something I definitely use daily in my classroom.

MEA: Who was your most memorable elementary school teacher?

Melissa: My kindergarten teacher. Maybe it’s because of all the fun I had when I was there, but even more because when we became colleagues she helped me to be a better teacher. I got to learn from her twice!

MEA: What was your favorite subject?

Melissa: Math. I love knowing that I will need to find an exact answer. I love figuring it out and validating my solution. My least favorite subject would have to be….well, I used to say history, but as I get older I’m finding that I am interested in learning more about it. So I guess I am still working on tackling that one.

MEA: Tell us about your first class.

Melissa: I consider myself pretty lucky—I never had the “nightmare” first year of teaching. I was an educational assistant for a few years prior to getting my degree so I was confident in what I was about to take on. I was extremely excited to finally have my own class where I could use my creativity. The parents I worked with were awesome and the kids were so much fun. One of the hardest things, even today, is knowing that some kids just don’t learn or grow as much as I want them to. No matter how I try to reach them, sometimes they leave my class less prepared than I wish they were.

MEA: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?

Melissa: I think they are extremely proud to know that they got to have me as a teacher and that a teacher at their school got this prestigious award. My students cried with me because they were so happy for me, for us, and for our school.

MEA: What do you hope your students remember about your class?

Melissa: I hope they remember that their second-grade teacher will always be there for them and cheer them on in all their successes.

MEA: How do you involve parents and families in your class?

Melissa: I try to bring parents in the classroom in all ways possible. I send weekly newsletters sharing what’s happening in the class and asking for volunteers to come in and help with daily tasks. My homework logs encourage parent involvement. I use a communication app that allows me to post daily activities with pictures and writing.  I feel that I have a great relationship with my students’ parents.

MEA: What’s your favorite time of the school day?

Melissa: First thing in the morning when the students enter class with big smiles and hugs. Any mishaps from the day before have vanished and it’s a time for us to start new. Greeting each of them by name and with a good-morning hug allows them to know they’re safe and that I am here for them.

MEA: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students’ learning needs.

MEA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Melissa: I haven’t thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.

MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?

Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it’s one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.

MEA: Finish this sentence: “I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…”

Melissa: …when the relationships I’ve built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.

MEA: What’s the biggest challenge you face in your classroom?

Melissa: My biggest challenge is time. There is never enough time in the day to finish, teach, help, and get everything done.

MEA: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Melissa: I would split the money up so that all teachers get some extra money for themselves and for their students’ learning needs.

MEA: If you hadn’t chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Melissa: I haven’t thought about this much, but since I like decorating and being creative, maybe something like a party planner.

MEA: What can our nation do better to encourage young, capable people to consider teaching as a career? How can we motivate new teachers to stay in the profession?

Melissa: Make the income worth all the hard work, right? This is one of the most rewarding careers a person can choose but, unfortunately, I feel that it’s one of the least valued professions. New teachers need to see that they are making a difference. Some of the new initiatives feel like a constant bash on teachers so maybe more recognition of the positive things happening in education.

MEA: Finish this sentence: “I know I’m succeeding as an educator when…”

Melissa: …when the relationships I’ve built with students remain years later. When I see them graduating high school and they come back to thank me for how I helped them get there. When students are excited to see me years after being in my class. When I see my students succeeding and making their dreams a reality.

GUEST POST: On the Verge of “Teacher Tired” and the NMTLN

GUEST POST: On the Verge of “Teacher Tired” and the NMTLN

Dear Teacher,

I know.  It’s late in winter. The sky is mostly absent of sunshine and the cold is settling into your bones. You have too many papers to grade, at least one third of the students in your class are sick with some contagion—yet they continue to come to school, another classroom observation is pending, and statewide testing is looming in front of you like a huge black hole that you are certain will suck you in and not let you go.  I know.  I’m right there with you.  I know you are on the verge of ‘teacher-tired,’ and the middle of the year ‘teacher blues’ are settling in.  I also know that the last thing you really want to do is think about the NMPED or any of the coming expectations in education connected with ESSA or state legislation surrounding education. I. KNOW.

These were all the burdens I carried with me when I drove to Santa Fe the evening of January 11th. I was TIRED.  And even though I was humbled and excited for the upcoming New Mexico Teacher Leader Network  gathering I had been chosen to participate in, I was also feeling a bit pessimistic, and if I’m honest, skeptical about the notion of one more ‘training’ hosted by the NMPED.  You see, as a 16 year NM teacher veteran, I had little faith that day in the PED’s ability to entertain or inform me to a level that I would find helpful or beneficial enough to justify the hours of prepping I had to do to be gone from my classroom for two full days.

That Wednesday evening of January 11th as I made the3.5 hour drive from Texico to the state capital, I spent my time in quiet reflection about what I hoped to take away from this upcoming ‘leader’ journey.  Teaching isn’t easy. You know this. It requires a certain mixture of intentionality and magic with a smidge of planning and a healthy dose of love that can be exhausting. Combine all of these elements, and the idea of adding one more thing to the mix is enough to send even the most seasoned and vibrant teacher over the edge and into, as Dr. Seuss calls them, those ‘not-so-nice places’.   And even though I was humbled by the selection, I wasn’t yet fully committed to the process, but I was also really curious about what the PED’s intentions were with this committee of 50 teachers, so I promised myself to give it my best, albeit tired teacher, effort!

Fast forward to today as I write this blog entry. Wow.  Just. WOW.  I stand corrected.  I am also restored in my belief that our state is FULL of dedicated educators who value and esteem teachers.  I spent those two cold days in Santa Fe surrounded by teachers and policy educators who are filled with a warmth and genuine love of teaching that any educator would be proud to associate with and learn from together. Not only did the New Mexico Public Education Department pull off a stellar event that championed and valued teachers in our state, they also owned up to previous mistakes in communication, preparation, and planning with regard to many of the changes that have been rolled out over the past 3 years in our school districts and classrooms.  That is important. Recognizing past mistakes and failures and owning responsibility in those incidents is important to me.  Many times over the last three years I felt unappreciated and demeaned. The NMPED owned their part in fostering those feelings. They were humble and candid about mistakes that were made, and earnest in a desire to create a solid bridge between teachers and the state department of education. The atmosphere was one of genuine authenticity and a deep desire to establish a rapport with teachers to enable effective communication and respect. I wouldn’t tell you this if I didn’t honestly believe the intention in their actions was genuine and aimed toward empowering teachers with a voice at the statewide level.

In reflecting upon my experience and what I am taking away from this new journey I’ve embarked upon, I now understand that as a teacher leader it is my responsibility to work with and share information and understandings with my fellow district colleagues in order to grow and build a mutual trust and respect between New Mexico teachers and the PED.  I mean, when you think about what we do every day, the reality is, that should be one of our primary areas of focus as educators.  My role as a NMTLN ambassador is to help build a bridge between all stakeholders so that NM students have the best possible learning journey we can offer.  Do I think this will happen immediately? No, absolutely not.  All good things take time to grow, but I’m optimistic that with the proper attention and care, the seeds of communication that were planted during those two days in Santa Fe will flourish into a strong connection between those who hold the future of the state—our kids—in their hearts.

I would love to talk to anyone who has questions or concerns about what I learned and know as a NMTLN ambassador.

Good things are happening, y’all.

Dawn Bilbrey
8th Grade ELA/US History
Texico Middle School
Texico, NM