News Column

Gov. Susana Martinez Pushes Education Reform

Oct. 5, 2012

Robert Nott

Susana Martinez

Gov. Susana Martinez said that she intends to continue to push the Legislature for a "no social promotion" bill as part of her educational reform platform for New Mexico.

The governor and Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera spent much of Wednesday promoting literacy skills by reading aloud to pre-kindergartners at several Santa Fe public school sites. The book Martinez read at Chaparral Elementary School, Lady Bug Girl and the Bug Squad, by Jacky Davis and David Soman, involves a young girl who, with the help of her dog, Bingo, starts a kids' club called the Bug Squad, while hijinks ensue.

Referring to a mid-September Albuquerque Journal poll stating that 75 percent of voters favor putting an end to social promotion if a student cannot read at their grade level, the governor said she feels more New Mexicans are now behind her educational initiatives.

She noted her administration's dedication of $30 million for reading assessments and reading coaches in grades K-3 to measure students' progress and said the Public Education Department needs this type of hard data to drive its reading programs over the course of this school year.

In other education-related issues, Martinez and Skandera said the state is testing its controversial new teacher/principal evaluation system in 68 pilot schools, though none of those sites are in Santa Fe. "It's what families and communities want," Skandera said, adding, "We believe there is growing support for it."

Santa Fe Superintendent Joel Boyd -- who was present at the Chaparral event Wednesday -- already has announced his plans to evaluate principals and top administrators over the course of the next year, regardless of whether the Public Education Department backs it or not. On Wednesday, Skandera said she welcomes the chance to speak with Boyd about his plan: "As long as he is working to raise the bar, we look forward to working together. ... We can find a way to make it happen."

In an effort to increase communication efforts, the Public Education Department also is hosting a series of workshops this month to further inform educators and the public about the relatively new A-F school grading system, which the state officially implemented this past summer. Martinez and Skandera have repeatedly said the system allows educators and community members to hold their schools accountable, due to the ease in understanding the differences between an A, a B, a C, a D and an F.

Of the state's 831 schools, 275 received a C, 250 a D, 198 a B, 69 an F, and 39 an A as of last July.

Even critics who have embraced the notion of an A-F system have suggested that the Martinez administration has done a poor job of communicating just how the grades were compiled and why the grades at some schools changed so drastically from the beginning of the year, when the state released preliminary scores, and July, when it released the first official grades.

But when it came to ladybugs, the governor could do not wrong. Claire Wright's pre-K students at Chaparral Elementary, where Martinez read the bug tale around noon Wednesday, were enthralled with the story and did their best to answer Martinez's queries.

When the governor asked the kids what a squid is (there's a squid in the story), one said, "It's me." Another said, "A creature who lives in the ocean."

"And wraps its arms around you," another shouted.

"And makes you die," a fourth said.

One little girl sidled up to the governor to read over the latter's shoulder. "What's your name?" the governor asked the tyke.

"It starts with an N," the girl replied.

"I have to guess?" the governor said. She ran through an array of "N" names and still didn't hit pay dirt. No wonder -- the girl's name is Nayeli Ortiz.

The event, which concluded with the governor passing out copies of the ladybug book to all the kids (in English and Spanish) also sported moments of unintentional humor. When the governor read a passage about an alien creature being involved in the Bug Squad's antics, she turned to the kids to ask them if they knew what an alien is.

One little girl raised her hand and said, "My mama."

Source: (c)2012 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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