COMMENTARY: In a time when our community, state, nation and world are as divided as ever, a group of elected officials is striving to unite, not divide. That group is the Las Cruces Public School (LCPS) Board of Education.
LCPS is in a pivotal time. It is probably its most important period in recent years. However, the strong, stern and composed leadership of Board President Señora Flores has resulted in unifying and not dividing the community.
Earlier this month, a Superintendent Search Advisory Committee met at Las Cruces High School to join forces and outline key characteristics for the new superintendent. It was wonderful to see strong community leaders such as state Rep. Bill McCamley, engaged parent Nayomi Valdez, and early childhood advocate Ray Jaramillo. The dialogue amongst members stretched from closing the student achievement gap to outlining key characteristics of the next superintendent.
The next LCPS superintendent definitely has plenty of work ahead. According to the 2016 Kids Count Report, many New Mexico students are unable to read or apply math at grade level, 77 percent of fourth-graders are not proficient in reading, while 79 percent of eighth-graders are not proficient in math.
Similarly, according to the N.M. Public Education Department (PED), the results of their highly controversial PARCC assessment, which is designed to predict whether students are on target to be college- and career-ready by graduation, revealed that in Las Cruces 76.3 percent of ninth-graders and 76.5 percent of fourth-graders who took their grade-level Language Arts PARCC Assessment were not on target to be college and career ready.
The PARCC assessment for eighth-grade math revealed similar results, as 90.9 percent of students in New Mexico and 95.3 percent of students in Las Cruces also were not on target to be college- and career-ready.
One reason that student achievement has widened is that “30% of NM children live at or below the poverty level… The poverty level is an annual income of less than $25,000 for a family of four,” the 2016 Kids Count Report states. Even graver, according to the American Community Survey Census for 2010-2015, in Doña Ana County a total of 44.3 percent of children under 5 live below the poverty line, while 38.5 percent of all children under 18 live below the poverty line. This represents almost half of our students.
With the odds seemingly against us, our community continues to exert strength. Teachers and parents have a clear understanding of our students’ needs. The LCPS Board of Education has identified our strengths and has brought members of the community together in deciding what we need in our next superintendent.
Increasing the distribution of resources to teachers, rather than spending money on administrative rewards, will benefit students enormously. Additionally, the next superintendent needs to have a smooth transition into our community, understand our cultural values, and embrace them with open arms. The next superintendent should place emphasize on increasing experiential education in reading, the arts, technology, and entrepreneurial learning so that students are well-prepared.
The future of the school district looks bright and promising. The school board has worked diligently to set the stage for change and improvement. The next LCPS superintendent needs to work with them, teachers, staff and the community to build on the progress made and create a united district that puts our children first.
Paul E. Garcia is a federal law enforcement officer and father of three children. Brooke Higginbotham is a Level 3 master teacher with eight years teaching in New Mexico. Both are Las Cruces residents and advocates for public education.