Morning Word

NM Grapples with “Staggering” Teacher Shortage

New food series will film in Santa Fe and highlight local cuisine

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 412 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of cases to 246,639. DOH has designated 216,137 of them as recovered. Bernalillo County had 103 new cases, followed by Lea County with 61 and Doña Ana County with 47. Santa Fe County had 14 new cases.

The state also announced 11 additional deaths, 10 of them recent, including one from Santa Fe County: a male in his 60s who was hospitalized and had underlying conditions. There have now been 163 deaths in Santa Fe County and 4,700 statewide. As of yesterday, 369 people were hospitalized with COVID-19—59 more than the day prior

Currently, 79.5% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 69.9% are fully vaccinated. In the 12-to-17-year-old age group, 63.2% people have had at least one dose and 53.1% are fully inoculated. In Santa Fe County, among those 18 years and older, 90.5% have had at least one dose and 80.4% are fully vaccinated.

Acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase, Deputy Secretary Dr. Laura Parajón and state epidemiologist Dr. Christine Ross will provide a COVID-19 news update at 2 pm today on the NMDOH Facebook page.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

NM teacher shortage “staggering”

New Mexico’s teacher shortage rose from 570 last year to more than 1,000 this year, based on a draft analysis presented yesterday to lawmakers. “It’s a staggering number,” Rachel Boren, director of the Southwest Outreach Academic Research Evaluation and Policy Center at New Mexico State University, said. Boren and her students are working on finalizing their annual vacancy report (here’s last year’s). The Legislative Finance Committee’s Public Education Subcommittee heard from several experts in addition to Boren during yesterday’s meeting, and are expected to receive an update on measuring pandemic learning outcomes this morning. The teacher shortage worsens as New Mexico remains legally required to improve equity in education following a 2018 court order in the Yazzie/Martinez lawsuit. As recently as April, plaintiffs returned to court arguing that the state education department had failed to provide adequate technological resources during the pandemic for under-served students; a state district judge ordered the state to do so. Lawmakers are expected to focus on student achievement in next year’s legislative session, with Danny Espinoza, a research and policy associate at the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute, telling legislators yesterday that having experienced teachers acts as a key indicator of student success. According to Espinoza, approximately 23% of New Mexico’s teachers are inexperienced—36% for schools serving high-poverty communities.

Forums, endorsements increase in mayor’s race

As the Nov. 2 municipal election draws closer, the forums also increase. The voting public will have several chances to hear from the three candidates—Alexis Martinez Johnson, City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler and incumbent Mayor Alan Webber—in the coming weeks. The Democratic Party of Santa Fe County will be hosting a forum via Zoom and Facebook live at 7 pm, Sept. 28; send a question to the candidates here (while the county Dems naturally note in their news release the political affiliations of the candidates, the municipal elections are non-partisan). The Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce and Santa Fe Housing Action Coalition also will host forums Oct. 4 and Oct. 5 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (these will also stream live); secure tickets here. SFR also posed questions to Martinez Johnson, Vigil Coppler and Webber in our longstanding Pop Quiz series here. Meanwhile, the Santa Fe New Mexican queried city councilors regarding which ones plan to issue an endorsement in the race. On Monday, Webber’s campaign announced endorsements from Roman “Tiger” Abeyta, Jamie Cassutt and Carol Romero-Wirth from districts 3, 4 and 2, respectively. The other councilors the New Mexican was able to reach either hadn’t decided yet whether to endorse or were leaning against it, except for District 1 Councilor Renee Villarreal, who told the paper she would not be making one, calling it a distraction from the Council’s work: “Asking for endorsements while we are currently serving with one another is inappropriate and creates a ‘divide and conquer’ approach, which only creates more divisions and fractions,” she wrote. Early voting begins Oct. 5.

Luján to introduce bill for NM radiation survivors

National Geographic examines the attempts by US Sen. Ben Ray Luján and other members of Congress to extend and expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act—passed in 1990 and set to expire July 11, 2022—to compensate people exposed to radioactive fallout as a result of living near nuclear test sites. But people downwind of New Mexico’s Trinity Site have never been eligible for compensation under RECA, a situation Luján’s bill would address. Luján introduced the bill several times while representing New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, and his office tells SFR he plans to introduce it for the first time today in the US Senate. “The fallout from nuclear weapons testing and uranium mining has impacted generations of New Mexicans and led to sickness and death,” Luján said in a statement provided to SFR. “It’s time to do the right thing and get justice for victims and survivors.” There will also be a companion bill in the US House. “The fact that there had not been a recognition of the impact of the very first atomic detonation in New Mexico was really simply wrong,” US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-NM, tells NatGeo. “We hear their voices, we see their pain, and we must act.”

The magazine’s story examines both the historical facts of the Trinity test, as well as the legacy of suffering it left for downwind survivors such as Barbara Kent, who attended a dance camp when she was 13 in the summer of 1945 near Ruidoso. She and her campmates awoke one night to hear a giant explosion. “We were all just shocked … and then, all of a sudden, there was this big cloud overhead, and lights in the sky,” she says. “It even hurt our eyes when we looked up. The whole sky turned strange. It was as if the sun came out tremendous.” Later, when white flakes began to fall, the girls thought it was snow and played beneath it. “But the strange thing, instead of being cold like snow, it was hot. And we all thought, ‘Well, the reason it’s hot is because it’s summer.’ We were just 13 years old.” By the time she turned 30, Kent says she was the only one of her campmates still alive. She has had several kinds of cancer and also has had her thyroid removed. She remembers government officials at the time saying it had been an explosion at a nearby dump. “They lied to us,” she says. “I didn’t learn the truth until years later.”

Listen up

A report released last week explores how the Southwest’s current drought fueled massive western wildfire seasons this year and last. Subsequently, wildland firefighters face increasing challenges each year, as climate change creates more severe fires and lengthens the fire season. In the most recent episode of Our Land from New Mexico PBS, correspondent Laura Paskus speaks with federal wildland firefighter Marcus Cornwell, former federal wildland firefighter Jonathon Golden and Kelly Martin, president of the Grassroots Wildland Firefighters about the obstacles they face, such as long assignments away from home, low pay and mental health challenges, as well as some of the potential ways to address those problems. Paskus also writes about wildland firefighters in this week’s SFR.

Christmas in Brooklyn

We have what we would characterize as a healthy suspicion of New Mexico food dished up in other states, except, of course, when it’s served by New Mexico expats. Such is the case for Brooklyn’s Ursula, a “New Mexico-inspired” cafe, run by Albuquerque native Eric See (ICYMI, we noted his New Yorker write-up last year). This week, See offers his recipe for breakfast burritos to Bon Appétit magazine, and notes they are modeled after the ones he grew up eating at Golden Pride, a drive-through burrito chain in Albuquerque. “There are two ingredients that are non-negotiable in New Mexican–style breakfast burritos: shredded hash browns and New Mexico chiles,” See says. Otherwise, Bon Appétit suggests customizing “everything else in this breakfast burrito recipe based on what’s in your fridge.” As for creating the ever-important chile portion, for those who can’t lay their hands on fresh chiles, See recommends Made in New Mexico’s sun-dried red chiles for the red chile and Zia Hatch Chile Company’s roasted and jarred chiles for the green.

What’s cooking

Speaking of food, the state film office yesterday announced a new series called “Santa Fe Foods,” which will film in Santa Fe this month and next. The six-episode show is described as a “docuseries that will highlight the world-class chefs, restaurants and food of one of the world’s great food scenes” (that’s us). Santa Fe Foods is executive produced and directed by Greg Zoch, who is co-producing with Teresa Zoch. “Teresa and I have been lifelong enthusiasts for Santa Fe and the vibrant, immersive experiences that Santa Fe offers. Not the least of which are world-class restaurants,” Greg Zoch said in a statement. “As such, we are extremely excited to have the opportunity to work with some truly wonderful and gifted people to showcase the amazing City Different to the world.” The production will employ approximately six New Mexico crew members, 12 New Mexico principal actors, and 20 New Mexico background actors. Season one will feature various prominent food and local experts including six local chefs. “Santa Fe has been a premier tourist destination for decades—offering unique shopping, an outstanding art scene, the thrill of outdoor recreation, beautiful hotels, a rich history and culture and world-class food,” Film Office Director Amber Dodson said in a statement. “We are excited for this home-grown docuseries that will feature what makes the oldest capitol in the US an inimitable and treasured place.”

Autumn arrives

Happy first day of fall, aka the Autumnal Equinox! The National Weather Service calls for a sunny day with a high near 77 degrees and east wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the morning.

Thanks for reading! The Word has gone down a mammoth-sized rabbit hole reading about this company that raised $15 million to genetically engineer and resurrect the extinct woolly mammoth.

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