In the last year, Santa Fe Public Schools beat state averages on math and reading test scores. But the district continues to face many significant challenges, including what Superintendent Veronica Garcia called a “crisis” of teacher vacancies, she explained Wednesday in the 2019 State of the Schools Address at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.
Of the $7.1 million awarded to the district in the last legislative session to address inequalities highlighted in the Yazzie Martinez lawsuit, the district spent $6.6 million on mandatory raises for teachers. Yet, teacher salaries “still aren’t competitive regionally, and our vacancies continue to go up,” Garcia said.
In addition to more aggressive out-of-state recruitment efforts, Garcia announced that the district is launching “project put students first Santa Fe.” The new initiative aims to fill teacher vacancies by moving certified district employees who currently work administrative positions into teaching positions.
“Our teachers are being spread thin,” she said, describing many schools’ reliance on long-term substitute teachers to cover basic core curriculum classes. Some schools have gone as long as two years without certified math teachers.
“I can’t morally in good conscience not do my best to ensure that we have our certified people working with our kids,” said Garcia, “We are going to try to move more people into the classroom.”
The district aims to increase teacher salaries to a minimum of $45,000 for teachers in the lowest tier and $65,000 in the highest tier next year in hopes of becoming regionally competitive, said Garcia.
The event also celebrated achievements of the school district, including sustainability improvements such as an electric school bus pilot program that will launch next year, and new programs in technology funded by this year’s tech bond, such as robotics classes.
But the lack of teachers in classrooms highlights the extent to which both SFPS and the state in general continue to struggle to meet the mandates of the Yazzie Martinez court ruling, which requires the state to provide districts with funding for culturally and linguistically appropriate programming, as well as improved k-5 programs and increases in teacher wages, to close the opportunity and performance gaps experienced by at risk and impoverished students.
In her address, Garcia highlighted how achievement gaps in Santa Fe public schools stem from inequalities that run much deeper.
SFPS saw marked improvements in the last year in both math and reading scores and beat state averages in both categories. Yet, Garcia pointed out that the schools with the highest performance metrics consistently have lower rates of students who are learning English as a second language and a lower percentage of students who qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.
To put it bluntly, she said, “it’s the higher-income schools [that are] scoring considerably higher than state averages.”
Funding diverse programs and extending early education opportunities is a top priority for the district in the next year, said Garcia, and is at the heart of the district’s 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. By 2023, the district hopes to have 70% of students enrolled in pre-K, K-5 plus programs, and extended learning programs.
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