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Can Monte del Sol’s original vision survive today’s learning environment?

August 4, 2010, 1:00 am

Tensions came to a head this spring, when Monte del Sol began working on a restructuring plan, per NCLB requirements. Ritchie says she held public input meetings on the plan in April and May. The plan had to be approved by Monte del Sol’s governing board by June and then sent to the state.

Yet several teachers tell SFR they were never shown the plan.

“The way a restructuring plan gets written really impacts curriculum and the whole structure of the school, but there really wasn’t room made to have those discussions,” Reid says. The Parent Teacher Student Association spent months asking to have input into the plan, she says, but wasn’t given much of an opportunity.

“There’s no reason that plan couldn’t have been gathering input since September,” Reid says. “That would be the way to approach it in the Monte del Sol spirit.”

When asked about the level of community input to the plan, Ritchie seemed surprised that people felt left out. She listed several meetings held in the spring to alert faculty, students and parents to the plan and, she says, collect input.

“We wanted to make it as transparent as possible,” Otero tells SFR. But, she admits, “There wasn’t a lot of attendance.”

Ritchie also gave SFR a 19-page synopsis of the plan, which draws from some No Child Left Behind recommendations, but also attempts to incorporate Monte del Sol’s creative, participatory culture.

The need for the plan became official on Aug. 2, when the New Mexico Public Education Department released the 2009-10 AYP results. Monte del Sol again failed to meet AYP and will have to implement its restructuring plan, when approved by the state.

Parts of the plan call for typically Monte-style programs: quarterly town halls on academic achievement in both Spanish and English, cooperation with higher learning institutions, and mental health and tutoring services.

But other aspects of the plan have engendered resistance because of the apparent push toward a more traditionally defined administration. These include adding a receptionist, making Otero’s position as dean of students a full-time job (Otero will no longer teach history, Ritchie says) and involving an outside consultant charged with “coaching teachers as they implement changes to instructional practices.”

There’s also a plan to wire the school with a PA/bell system—itself the very emblem of regimented schooling. And then there’s this: “Head Learner will make all decisions related to staffing, staff scheduling and site-based budget,” part of the restructuring plan reads.

“The principal makes a hiring decision; that’s state law,” Ritchie says. “It shouldn’t be a change.”

But to some, it represents a transition to a more traditional administration—and with it, the usual focus on achievement.

“The mission now isn’t about making wonderful leaders—it’s about getting good test scores,” Dean tells SFR. “A lot of the original mission is being sacrificed.”

Ritchie doesn’t deny her focus on bringing the school’s test scores up to par.

This year, Monte del Sol will implement its restructuring plan, which calls for a PA/bell system and other changes.
Credits: Photo: Alexa Schirtzinger

“There has been, in the past, not as much concern for standardized test scores,” Ritchie tells SFR. “Certainly we have had to accelerate that process because we are in restructuring,” she says, pausing. “That’s been hard.”

When she first came to Monte del Sol, Ritchie says she tried to avoid shaking things up—“but I think change was forced upon us,” she says.

Though she says she tried to incorporate all three aspects of healthy schools—academic, financial and relational—into her role as head learner, “I’m aware that doesn’t take place in one year,” Ritchie admits. “You can’t just step in and become the former leader who’s been here for 10 years.”

But Ritchie isn’t one to apologize.

“We’re moving from a very young school into a much more stable school, and that [takes] a different kind of leadership,” Ritchie says.

The question is, what kind?
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