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NEA-Santa Fe gains new leadership

Allana Cartier becomes the new NEA-Santa Fe President as she enters her 10th year as Aspen Community School’s school nurse. (Mo Charnot)

As the 2023-2024 school year came to a close on May 23, Grace Mayer had plenty of wins.

She reported those in her capacity as president of the National Education Association’s Santa Fe chapter during the May 21 Board of Education’s union update, with highlights including: bringing in new bargaining unit members; gaining stipends for bilingual educators; community outreach initiatives to help teachers pay for classroom materials; and funding for teachers to receive increased licensure in accredited classes.

Mayer, who has served as the NEA-Santa Fe president since 2014, also announced her retirement.

“I hope that my legacy as NEA-Santa Fe president is thought of as both fierce and persistent,” she told the board at the meeting. “In solidarity, great things can happen, but constant vigilance is required.”

Now stepping in to replace Mayer is Allana Cartier, a school nurse at the Aspen Community School who will be entering her 10th year at Aspen in the upcoming school year. Deborah Anaya, a fourth grade teacher at the same school, will serve as vice president.

Cartier tells SFR it took some convincing when Mayer initially approached both her and Anaya about taking on these roles.

“I thought, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if I can do that,’” Cartier says. “But I thought about it, and I thought, ‘I want to make sure that employees and students, everybody’s rights, are taken care of all the time. Maybe this is my next chapter.’”

Cartier initially joined NEA-Santa Fe after she began working at Aspen, encouraged by then-president Bernice Garcia-Baca who said the union needed “more nurses to represent ancillary staff.”

She describes her time working with the union as “eye-opening.”

As NEA-Santa Fe president, Cartier says she wants to prioritize her fellow union members’ needs while taking into account the quality of education students receive.

“As a mom, my kids went through public schools, and I want every kid to be able to have opportunity and equity,” she says. “Throughout the state would be great, but if I can make even a little bit of a difference in my hometown, I’m all for that.”

Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez tells SFR he is “looking forward to fostering partnership” with the union under its new leadership, and says Mayer “will be missed.”

“Mayer was a champion within our district for many, many years, and somebody that I worked closely with, and I think that is a unique relationship that we’ve had,” Chavez says. “I know some other school districts and superintendents struggle with their union. I saw them as a partner, and she and I problem-solved together—that way, problems didn’t escalate and get out of hand.”

Mayer has also indicated that NEA-Santa Fe’s working relationship with Chavez has been largely positive and collaborative. Both Chavez and NEA-Santa Fe, for example, opposed the Public Education Department’s controversial adoption of a rule requiring all school districts in New Mexico to have at least 180 days of school earlier this year. The rule is now under a preliminary injunction preventing it from taking effect, thanks to a lawsuit by 63 school districts and charter schools in New Mexico that includes Santa Fe Public Schools.

Cartier says she feels that Chavez is “very open to the union,” and will be “great to work with.” Some concerns she put forth as major priorities for the next school year include the school district’s funding, boosting employee morale and reducing class sizes.

“Putting 25 first graders in one classroom is not the best learning environment, so that’s something we continue to try to work on and try to get the class sizes smaller,” Cartier says. “And right now, people are just not choosing education as a career choice. I want people to say, ‘Yes, I want to be a teacher, it’ll be worth it.’”

However, a recent report from the Legislative Education Study Committee indicates Cartier’s support for reducing class sizes through policy may continue to be an uphill battle. It states that while reducing class sizes alone may improve working conditions for individual teachers, the amount of teachers, services and infrastructure needed to support classrooms would “substantially increase.” It points to measures such as improving the quality of instruction and adding more staff to support teachers as more comprehensive solutions.

SFPS has already been focusing on implementing these types of reforms: Chavez notes that in his three years as superintendent, investing in the district’s workforce and improving instructional quality has been one of the top priorities for both the previous and current school boards to improve the district. As a result, he says, the district now has a much lower vacancy rate, including zero vacancies in the past few years for bilingual teaching positions.

“Being able to fill those hard-to-fill positions has been a great accomplishment over the last three years,” he says.

One success Chavez notes for the district is the growth of its free summer programming introduced three years ago. Since then, the number of students attending has grown from around 2,600 to more than 4,400, he says. Additionally, the district’s investments in work-based learning and internships mean even more students have been engaging in some form of summer programming.

“When you can get students involved and when you can keep them engaged, you will see better outcomes at the end of the day,” he says. “It’s about being patient, it’s about being steady and investing in these crucial areas that will produce outcomes down the road.”

And in the upcoming school year? Chavez says his priorities come down to three areas: better student outcomes, filling the remaining educator vacancies and improving student attendance.

“Those will always be our priorities—we’ll never be satisfied,” he says.

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