A number of bills are on the table in Santa Fe during the 2022 New Mexico legislative session, all of which have a direct correlation with the strategic plan Las Cruces Public Schools laid out for the Board of Education recently. The plan creates some of the most promising scenarios for what our classrooms will look like in the future.
As we continue to redefine educational best practices amid a pandemic, we are also entering a perfect storm between a record high of available revenues. The health emergency shined light on the disparities in public education and where teachers, students and families need support. We have always seen the disparities in those areas, but COVID brings them to the forefront of conversations about how to finally address it in a way we never have before. Included in those conversations is a new designation for educators as essential workers. This affirmation is parallel to the importance of parent engagement, technology, and professional development for teachers. A tremendous opportunity for our students awaits the passage of those bills, and we want to take advantage of this opportunity with the resources we have, and we want to get it right.
Prior to the start of the legislative session, we shared with our elected officials the pillars that influence the strategic plan for LCPS. Together with our school leaders, we want to build an educator ecosystem that will ensure every child has well prepared, well supported and highly effective teachers who use culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogy to guide their learning and development. The most important action to support our educators is Senate Bill 1, which would raise salaries for teachers and, paired with the budget bill, would provide at least a seven percent raise across the board for every teacher in the state. Last Friday, that bill was passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee and is now with the Senate Finance Committee. Additional bills that enhance the educator ecosystem, like House Bill 13 that expand the teacher residency program, and House Bill 73 that would allow more retired teachers to return to the classroom without losing benefits, are vital to the preservation of our teacher ranks. Also vital are our classified employees and our advocacy to raise the minimum wage to $15 in support of their critical roles within our schools.
Another component of the strategic plan focuses on improving educational pathways for our students and building a better graduate profile. What this looks like is providing our high school students with relevant, research-based, applied and experiential learning opportunities that take the traditional classroom and transform it into hands-on learning in a career setting. Efforts in Santa Fe that complement the graduate profile are a strong commitment to funding CTE programs, an $8 million dollar increase to elementary PE and student wellness programs and increasing funding for community schools. These essential tools support all students to become college and career ready and contribute as productive members of their community.
A way to accelerate student learning and development is to support schools and classrooms to engage in deeper, enriched academic learning integrated with social-emotional learning that is also culturally and linguistically responsive. In addition, we have a responsibility to provide equitable access to asset-based support services and learning opportunities that enable all students to thrive in their educational setting, regardless of their demographics, family income level or ability status.
We know these strategies work. The difference between how we’ve been doing things and how we hope to improve them is in the unprecedented resources available to us and the metrics with which we will measure our success. With cooperation of our lawmakers, a commitment from the state and a little bit of time to put these words into action, the next report we will have to you is how much of a difference we can make along the way. Our students deserve nothing less.
Timothy Hand is the Chief of Staff at Las Cruces Public Schools