Say they were blindsided by autocratic changes in school grading
Hanna Skandera, still unconfirmed by the state Senate after 21 months in office, nonetheless is the second-most-powerful person in New Mexico's public education system. Only Gov. Susana Martinez, who hired Skandera, has more clout.
Martinez wanted and got legislation that created an A-F grading system for more than 800 public schools in New Mexico. Skandera has the job of making sure the school-grading system is clear and fair.
That has been a point of contention for months.
State Sen. Howie Morales and other legislators say the grading system is convoluted and inconsistent. Morales, D-Silver City, also said that school superintendents were not told of certain changes in how grades would be calculated.
"If we're going to hold schools accountable, accountability goes both ways," Morales said in an interview.
School superintendents have similar concerns.
The leader of their association, E. David Atencio, recently wrote a letter to Skandera. It outlined concerns about how her agency is working with school districts, and criticizes her for shutting out people who want to help make school better.
Below are the most relevant portions of Atencio's letter:
September 21, 2012
Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera
NM Public Education Department
Dear Secretary-Designate Skandera,
The New Mexico Superintendents Council has requested that as president of the New Mexico School Superintendents Association I forward this correspondence to your attention on their behalf. The New Mexico Superintendents Council met this past Monday to discuss several issues that are affecting New Mexico students and their education.
The NMSC has determined that a change of approach is necessary in order to ensure that the voices of children, families, communities and boards of education are heard and considered with regard to those issues that directly affect the children of our state.
The NMSC has deemed it necessary to hold monthly solutions-based meetings to discuss the many issues facing our children and their schools. The council invites your involvement and participation as we move forward to provide much needed leadership and direction at a statewide level.
The decision to move forward on behalf of children must not be taken out of context. The decision was made after years of attempting to work with the Public Education Department to improve communication and accountability.
... As in the past, the SSC continues to make itself available to the state education leaders of each administration. You have conveyed that your preference is not to meet with the elected council but instead prefer to appear before superintendents as a group or meet on an individual basis.
... The SSC is comprised of elected representatives from 8 School Board Regions plus at-large members from the Albuquerque Public Schools, Las Cruces Public Schools, northern, southern, and small school districts.
Since January of 2012, the Superintendents Association has continued to request accurate and timely information from you and your staff on many matters that directly affect New Mexico students and their education.
On August 30, 2012, you released a list of changes that PED made to the A-F school grading system. While we appreciate finally obtaining the list of PED changes, the council has expressed deep concern with the lack of communication regarding the changes implemented into the calculation of school grades without any notification to superintendents and districts.
The instructional leaders of New Mexico have been trying to explain to our communities and staff the meaning of the school grades, only to learn that they were operating from PED provided information that was no longer valid or accurate.
The council is concerned that there is a widespread perception that the grading system has come about as a result of "cooperation" or even "participation" from the council.
Your most recent release of information, which occurred months after the release of the school grades and only after repeated requests for accurate information, does not address why "no one was informed" of these changes. Based upon your list of PED changes, the grading system is clearly still under construction. Your release does not, however, address the "apparent" lack of adherence to legislation that requires that the PED obtain “prior” input from the council.
The information in the release of PED changes to the A-F school grading system would lead one to believe that PED sought input from the council rather than from a select few individuals.
The moment that PED elected to exclude the council in order to make wholesale changes for the sole purpose of obtaining the No Child Left Behind waiver, that is when the plan became PED's plan.
The PED changes did not reflect input from the council either before or after the fact. To imply or state otherwise is fundamentally inaccurate. PED has made numerous changes without the required input and without notification to the instructional leaders of the state. The lack of communication and adherence to process is but one example of the systematic exclusion of superintendents and local input.
In summary, as a result of the ongoing and systematic exclusion of Superintendents Council input, the council will take steps to ensure that the concerns of children, families, communities and boards of education are heard and considered. The council will continue to make itself available to the secretary of education and welcomes any opportunity to work in concert towards solutions-based efforts for our students.
If in the future you wish to meet, as you have indicated in our most recent conversation, we as an organization stand ready to dialogue on mutual issues affecting our children and their education. We welcome your involvement and participation as we move forward on behalf of the 300,000 students of New Mexico. Our children are too important to do otherwise and they deserve no less.
Respectfully submitted on behalf of the New Mexico Superintendents Council,
E. David Atencio, president