Progress was the educational theme Thursday morning during a back-to-school conference held by Portales Municipal Schools.
Guest speakers for the event, which included Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Texico, Priscilla Fernandez, director of AdvancED New Mexico, and New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, spoke to Portales schools faculty about the new A-F Grading System, their accreditation and new programs coming to New Mexico schools.
"One of the goals of school grades is to improve education," Skandera said when talking about the new A-F Grading System. "I fundamentally believe that everyone has a part to play in education, whether parents or grandparents."
Skandera said through the Adequate Yearly Progress system, 98 percent of New Mexico schools were failing but through the A-F system, only 8 percent are failing.
She said the new system is more beneficial, because it does not just pass or fail as AYP did, but shows school districts the specific areas they are improving in and the specific areas they are not.
"It's a really good tool to see what's going on in our schools," she said. "Maybe they (New Mexico districts) aren't an A school yet, but they are heading in the right direction and improving."
Skandera also spoke on a new reading program being integrated into districts in the next school year called Reads to Lead.
She said $8.5 million in state grants have been given to seven New Mexico school districts and one charter school for the program, which trains reading coaches to work with teachers to show them how to identify and help students having problems with reading.
Roch told faculty members that another change coming this school year is a new way to evaluate teachers.
He said Lindsey-Steiner Elementary in Portales will be a pilot school for testing the new system, which will continue to grade teachers by principal observation with the addition of also grading them on student growth and improvement and other measures which are tailored specifically to individual districts.
"Not only have our standards changed; students and society have changed too," said Roch, who is also a school adminstrator in the Texico school system. "We, as educators, must also change if we are to remain relevant."
"It's not a stand up and lecture environment anymore," he added. "That's not the way school has to be run, because that's not the way our students are wired."
Roch said state educational officials hope the new teacher-evaluation system will encourage teachers to find new and creative ways to be "effective teachers" instead of just average teachers.
"It's not about getting rid of teachers; it's about making effective teachers," he told Portales faculty. "The data is all there and shows effective teachers are what make a difference."
Another element to the back-to-school conference was Ferndandez commending Portales schools for its districtwide accreditation, which they achieved the end of the last school year.
"It is about dedication; it is about commitment and continuous improvement," Fernandez told faculty, concerning their accreditation.
Fernandez said by being accredited districtwide, Portales schools will be able to continuously improve throughout each school year by being constantly evaluated by themselves and other educators across the nation.
"We can always move towards that next level of improvement," Fernandez said. "It's all about you and it's all about your students. We just provide you the tools you need to get to where you want to be."
Fernandez said Portales schools was given very high accommodations during their accreditation in highly effective leadership, system-wide focus on educational improvement, community resources and continuous improvement.
She said one of the next steps for the district is to improve their level of parental involvement.
"Please let me know your (educational) ideas," Ingle asked Portales educators during the conference. "Thank you for what you do, because you don't get thanked enough."