This last week I managed to sit down at various times with all four candidates from District 4. Mainly we met in local restaurants. Oh I know there is the Q & A page in the ABQ Journal
for the candidates. That wasn't exactly what I was after. Besides, their answers were limited to 35 words. That is little more than a tweet!
As a former APS teacher with 31 years of experience, I have an opinion on just about anything dealing with education. However, I believe I have kept my opinions under control in this piece. Or at least the reader can tell when I am offering a personal comment. I apologize in advance if you find this offensive.
The election process itself is extremely compressed, which may help explain the low turnout. The filing date was December 21st, and the election is only 5 weeks after the filing date with the Christmas holidays in between. Last election the city-wide voter turnout was around 4%.
The turnout for last night's forum was certainly less than impressive. There were 25 people, including the candidates and half a dozen from out of the district. Remember that low voter turnout spells Opportunity for small groups with agendas. Don't forget to vote next Tuesday, Feb. 1. Your polling place can be found here.
You might notice that Martin Esquivel is not in the banner photo of the forum. He was unable to be there because of a Board meeting. So pour yourself a cup of coffee, spread a little jam on that whole-grain toast, and read on.
MARTIN ESQUIVEL: APS not perfect, but works well.
RIO GRANDE & MOUNTAIN NW--Martin Esquivel leaned back in a chair in his office. "The onus is
on us," he said. Esquivel has been pretty vocal about upcoming budget cuts and forging a productive relationship with Governor Susana Martinez. "We need to be able to articulate why no more cuts." The latest point of contention is the claim by Martinez that APS principals are paid too much. "No one's getting rich off of being a principal," he said.
True enough. But what about the rest of APS administration? What about Central Office? Esquivel seemed to anticipate that question. "You know," he said, "APS has 450 fewer employees than last year." That is a pretty significant number, roughly 5% of the workforce. Still I kept thinking about those two big towers near Coronado Center filled with people who never come close to working with students.
But I had another set of concerns. I had been wondering ever since "Reform" had become a byword, what exactly the public wanted in the the way of graduates. What kind of people do they want APS to turn out? What skills...what focus? And stated in just a few words.
Esquivel mulled this one over for a second. "Basic skills. Social skills. Citizens." I thought the last comment was important. There is a difference between turning out future workers and future citizens. "Good citizens need to have more than just the basic skills to function in society." He paused. Then he added, "We need more vocational training."
"There is not enough emphasis on writing." I had a feeling this was important to him. On the wall of his office hung the framed front page of a newspaper. I believe it was the LA Times. In the lower right-hand corner was a story about the ABQ Dukes written by one Martin Esquivel. After college Esquivel had spent some time as a sports writer.
Any Board of Education has to have a handle on where the district needs to go in the future. The past and present board members had to deal with the incredible growth of the west side. The resulting overcrowding led to criticism that APS didn't care about the west side. A tremendous building effort resulting in 11 new schools reduced some of the pressure to split off that part of APS. That board, as well as the citizens of greater Albuquerque are to be commended for stepping up to that plate. But what about now? What challenges are we going to face now? So I asked him, "Forgetting the current but temporary funding problems, what do you see as major issues in the next 5 to 10 years."
Esquivel answered without hesitation. "How to teach to a generation of kids raised on electronic media. Just compare the amount of time kids spend reading words on paper versus the time spent on electronic media." Esquivel cited the rapid introduction of Prometheus Boards, those electronic whiteboards that allow input from anybody in the class, as an example of one way to approach teaching this new generation. "We live in a more interactive society," he said. Then he sort of acted out how kids can interact with the lesson from their own desks using a remote device. The man was definitely showing some enthusiasm for the subject.
"Also, we built 11 brand new schools for the newer areas of town. Now is the time to put money in older schools."
"Thank you for your time Martin."
Charles E. MacQuigg: Stand and Deliver!
NOB HILL FLYING STAR--Ched MacQuigg has taken issue with the Board of Education for years on
his blog Diogenes Six
. He has also tried to address his issues before the Board in person. These appearances might be termed political theater, including the time he showed up wearing an elephant mask to signify he was addressing big issues that were being ignored. At any rate, MacQuigg stated that Board member Esquivel had him banned from board meetings--an allegation that Martin Esquivel denies. "I've been arrested 10 times...but never charged," said MacQuigg referring to his presence at those meetings.
Just what has MacQuigg so burned up? In a word, Corruption. But he is also concerned about what he sees as administrative failures in accountability and standards. In fact, MacQuigg is famous for his long-standing attempt to hold the board to the six pillars of Character Counts, the model used to try to mold the behavior of school kids
He is particularly upset that the investigation of former APS Police Chief Gil Lovato was never completed. And as long as it is incomplete, the report is not part of the public record and can't be accessed by the general public. By the way, that scandal broke in November of 2007. MacQuigg told me that Lovato had said that if he went to court not one administrator would be left standing. He is also distressed by what he perceives as a lack of “due process” rights for those who disagree with the Superintendent as well as whistleblowers.
“If I get elected I'm going to shine a light on all this!”
100,000 Years of Experience
MacQuigg would also like to change the lack of input from teachers and the community in decision making. “We spend half a billion dollars on teachers. They collectively have 100,000 years of teaching experience in APS, and yet no seat at the table where decisions are being made.” Well, it's hard to argue with that!
MacQuigg laments “cemetery seating” which he sees as a byproduct of NCLB. He also thinks the Prometheus boards praised by Martin Esquivel as “a waste of money” because it still uses students sitting in rows as its assumed lecture model environment. MacQuigg envisions students sitting at workstations around the room connected to the internet or some electronic medium. He likes to say, “The only thing those 30 kids in the classroom have in common is their date of manufacture.”
He also stated the if APS is ever split up, he would prefer to split the district into something like 175 different districts. In essence, every school would become a charter school and form its own district. APS would remain as an umbrella organization--to take advantage of economies of scale in commercial dealings.
“Thank you Ched.”
Cheryl Ann Harris: Make APS More User Friendly.
MANNIES, CENTRAL & GIRARD SE—Cheryl Ann Harris and I sat down for coffee in one of
those small booths next to the counter. It was noontime and crowded in this icon of the blue-collar lunch. Among other things, Harris had been the property manager for the phone company. Her territory included every phone company building in Utah, Idaho, and Montana. “If I had 40 buildings with frozen pipes I would have been fired!” How all those pipes froze has never been fully explained. Instead, Harris insists, APS has become defensive and hide-bound. She uses the frozen pipes as an example of the lack of communication with the community. Every candidate I talked with had the same complaint: APS needs to better communicate with its parents and the city of Albuquerque.
Cheryl Ann Harris said that APS needs to partner with the city. And that parents have to accept more responsibility for what happens with their child in school. “Discipline needs to come from parents,” she stated. She mentioned one program that has caught her eye, Families and Schools Together (FAST). Currently it is only in four schools.
Harris said that APS administration needs to be streamlined. I thought this was a pretty standard answer, and asked her specifically what she was talking about. For one thing, she suggested that all the administrators at the APS Towers should work as substitute teachers once in a while. “Just how high up the ladder are you talking about?” I asked.
“Right up the ladder all the way to the top,” she answered. I am not sure of the money-saving feature of this idea, but it certainly has its appeal!
She said that part of the problem regarding administrative costs rests in how the positions are categorized. Harris said that although there were maybe only two floors of the Towers that are counted as administration, there are two whole buildings full of the rest of the people who are classified as being “instructional” because they work in various departments such as Home Schooling. “Administration should include everybody at City Center, not just a couple of floors,” she added. “I would like to get an organization chart of APS. I tried to make my own.”
Winston Brooks and the Board
I asked about the superintendent. “I have some concerns about his ability to work with his staff,” Harris said. I took that to be a reference to Ruby Ethridge and the situation at Rio Grande High School.
“But there does need to be broader governance and a customer focus,” she continued. “The district administration needs to be more of a support system and less of a top-down model.”
Harris was not shy in stating some thoughts about the current Board of Education. “Four years ago Marty Esquivel said, 'I won't be a rubber stamp' for the administration. Yet that is what he has become.”
Harris says graduates should possess a good sense of where they want to go in life. They should be confident about their strengths and weaknesses. They need English and math skills strong enough to be successful in what they choose.
For Harris this would involve offering a variety of educational options. “I'm for school choice—charter schools, alternative schools, home schooling. APS needs to be more user-friendly.”
Finally I asked her about a path to victory...how did she herself winning the District 4 race. She stated that in the last School Board election, District 4 voted a little less than 7% of its eligible voters, that would be 4 or 5000 votes. She hopes to see 6000 votes cast this time. “2500 votes could win it.”
Candido Archuleta: Top-Down Decision-Making Saps Creativity.
NOB HILL FLYING STAR—When Candido Archuleta sat down I felt obligated to ask him his age.
“I'm 33,” he said. I told him he looked a lot younger. “Everybody says that,” he laughed. He has two young sons; the older is a kindergarten student at Dolores Gonzales ES. “Whether or not I'm elected, I'll be around for the next 15 years,” he added. “I'm running in this election for my 'jitos.”
Archuleta is one of two District 4 board candidates with children in APS. The other is Martin Esquivel...and both of them have their children enrolled in Spanish/English dual language programs. That's a big plus in my book. By the way, a dual language program usually consists of a week in one language and then a week of the other. It is difficult to find people to teach these classes, and is one of the advantages offered by a larger school district.
The Mold Story
Leaky restroom pipes in his son's kindergarten classroom led to a discovery of toxic mold beneath the floor. He thought that the problem was not being handled in a timely fashion. Archuleta spent a great deal of time trying to get APS to take appropriate action. It went all the way to the top of City Center before it was fixed. Now, two months and 12 Freedom of Information requests later, Candido Archuleta is running for the school board.
Archuleta does have quite a bit of relevant experience. He is a policy wonk, having worked in community and regional planning as well as a lobbyist and administrator for the Land Grant Council.
Parents and the Top
Archuleta's experiences at central office have left him with a pretty definite opinion of what is wrong at City Center. “At the district level, parents are okay for fundraising, but not for real input and problem solving,” he said. “You can't just make decisions at the top. You take away teachers' ability to be creative.”
He also talked about what it felt like when he walked into the APS headquarters at City Center. “Intimidating!”
was the word he used.
And what about the poor performance of so many schools on AYP tests? He answered, “I don't think the schools are that bad, I think the testing is bad.” He added he would like to see parent evaluation of teachers...something like what is done at the university level.
“Our schools need to teach critical thinking to our kids—not just proficiency at this or that level on a test. I want the guy working on my house or my car to be a critical thinker.” He is not adverse to having controversial subjects discussed in school. This would include creationism, although he does not believe it should be taught side-by-side with evolution.
His Path to Victory
The Archuleta family has lived in District 4 for 40 years—four generations in the same house! It is this home-grown nature of his community roots that is the basis for his campaign. “I'm a community organizer and I understand the importance of the grass-roots level.” He said he doesn't have a lot of capital, but he is walking every precinct in District 4.
“I'm doing this for my 'jitos!” he repeated.
A Funny Thing About the Forum
I had only one reason to attend last night's candidate forum at Highland High School; I wanted to get a picture of all four of them together to use in the banner for this story. It didn't happen. The incumbent, Martin Esquivel, had a board meeting last night and wasn't able to attend the opening of the forum. He may have been there later. I left early.
Interestingly, the event was sponsored by a group that identified itself as “Concerned Citizens for APS Reform.” That didn't Google too well, so I asked a woman who was passing out leaflets who they really were. It turned out to be basically church members from out of the district. The heading on the material she was distributing stated it was from the Albuquerque Tea Party. It was a candidate questionaire, and although the top of the paper said the Tea Party was an advocate for limited government and free market economy, the survey included questions on contraceptives and teaching about sexual diversity.
The moderator, by way of an introduction to the forum, stated that raising the number of voters was one of their main goals. I would certainly applaud them for that. However, their sponsorship of this event does seem to interject a mix politics and religion into the school board debate. It wouldn't take too much for special interest groups of any kind to exert more influence than might be expected. And frankly, the use of "Concerned Citizens for APS Reform" as the sponsor is not very transparent.
Remember that only 4000 to 6000 votes are forecast for District 4. And this is a big district, roughly bounded by Gibson, Broadway, Montgomery, and Louisiana. So your vote is huge!
The teachers' union has endorsed Martin Esquivel. Harris said she didn't get the endorsement because of her embracing charter schools. Archuleta said that although he comes from a union family, he didn't get their endorsement because of the union's emphasis on electibility. There is nothing wrong with the union considering either of those items. I don't think any of the candidates are anti-union.
This was brought home to me at last night's forum when a member of the sponsoring group asked Ched MacQuigg about the union's making it so difficult to get rid of bad teachers. He responded that they were defending 'due process' and that in the course of that some bad teachers might be taking advantage of it, but that the unions were doing the right thing.
Lucky Us...and Thanks
We should be proud to have four intelligent, educated, and dedicated candidates in District 4. Being on the School Board is not a glamorous job. Why anyone would want to go to all those meetings is beyond me. Maybe it just comes down to this: they are doing it for all our hijitos. Thank you.