Summer in New Mexico’s Progressive Small School

Santa Fe plaza

Santa Fe plaza

I spent a good deal of time this summer in two of our “new” states –New Hampshire and New Mexico. (More on NH in an upcoming post)

I’ve had the good fortune to work in schools over recent years in The Land of Enchantment. New Mexico faces some stiff economic challenges and a department of education that has not been friendly to new ideas and diverse approaches, but I continue to find schools and networks that studiously embrace all learners, reach out into the community and strive to learn from each other.

One of my first summer stops was Amy Biehl HS in Albuquerque, a school I had collaborated with in its early years. The school is located in the city’s old Federal Court House in a gorgeously restored setting. Humanities teacher Frank McCullough is now the school’s leader, and along with Dean of Students, Mark O’Gawa, I had a chance to work with their very skilled Student Support Team. Over a decade ago, the Amy Biehl SST offered an early model of how to bring social-emotional support out from behind the counseling curtain and share ideas and practices school-wide. We spent a full day taking stock of the team’s role in a very mature school, sorting through challenges and assets, and identifying milestones through some appreciative inquiry.

Amy Biehl HS Indaba Hall

Amy Biehl HS Indaba Hall

Next, my travels took me to Santa Fe to facilitate a leadership retreat for the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA), an innovative, dual-language school open tuition-free to the community and region. ASLA is a great story, “the little school that could”. Sensing a lack of non-residential educational options for deaf and hard-of-hearing young people and their families, the school was created by parents, educators and collaborators less than a decade ago. The school now offers grades K-10, and approximately 60% of students qualify for special education services and 85% of students have a link to the deaf community. Under Rafe Martinez, ASLA’s Director, two partnerships have increased the school’s capacity and raised its profile --one with the University of New Mexico which welcomes new and practicing educators to learn and study at the school, and a second with the PEAR Institute which will guide wellness programming.  

 ASLA Executive Director Rafe Martinez and legislative collaborator Rick Martinez

 ASLA Executive Director Rafe Martinez and legislative collaborator Rick Martinez

The school’s own increase in student enrollment (a waiting list has grown), inquiries from other schools in the region, and their own ambition to provide state-of-the-art services to the community, signaled the need for the executive administrative team to look ahead to new leadership strategies and key upcoming milestones. I joined local consultant Everette Hill of the Social Innovation Strategies Group in guiding the team through a set of activities that will provide a road map for the upcoming year as they grow programs and partnerships and lead the faculty in concert. Facilities options, board development, developing a revised professional development calendar, and identifying key benchmarks and support required to get there all surfaced in the intense three-day retreat.

Early August brought me back to Albuquerque for on-going collaboration with the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. It’s “Leadership High Schools” network includes a focus on re-engaging older students who had left school but now wish to return and need an environment specifically designed for them. Based in part on the design of the New York City Young Adult Borough Centers, the Network’s Re-Engagement Schools provide an afternoon-early evening schedule, social workers and counselors, connections to growth industries and employers and hands-on learning in the areas they require to meet state graduation standards. Key to the mission is shaping the community’s understanding that different types of students require a diverse and substantial portfolio of educational options, and then designing forward.

 Albuquerque Sign Language Academy leadership team members, Leticia Archuleta (left) and Jennifer Blythe (right)

 Albuquerque Sign Language Academy leadership team members, Leticia Archuleta (left) and Jennifer Blythe (right)

School leaders and wellness pillar administrators from the network schools came together to assess the efficacy of current efforts and to begin a more intensive study of the needs of older students, implications for design and gathering promising practices. The Center’s doctoral Intern, Rachel White, presented the findings of her research in the current state of the network’s evening Re-Engagement programs. A new partnership with local youth development agency NMCAN will assist the Center and the schools in leveraging resources in support of re-engagement programming.

Rachel White presenting Re-Engagement Research                         

Rachel White presenting Re-Engagement Research                         

That same week the Leadership HS Network administrators and boards joined forces for a retreat to focus on policy development, good internal board practices, and support for school leaders. Held at the new Siembra Leadership High School, nearly thirty people from three schools gained some big picture take-away’s and promising practices before going into school-based teams to assess current efforts and upcoming opportunities for focus and growth.

 

 Leadership High School Network boards retreat

 Leadership High School Network boards retreat

My final NM summer outing was a day-long retreat with, and for, new amigos at the Media Arts Collaborative secondary school. The school seeks to prepare students for an education in the media arts at the university and community college level, as well helping students and families to understand the global role of media arts and how people’s lives are shaped by them. I was fortunate to meet Glenna Voight, the retiring Media Arts principal, at a CES conference last fall, and now count new leader Jonathan Dooley as a friend and colleague. I’ve also quickly grown fond of the school’s diverse, open-minded and accomplished staff.

 

 Media Arts Collaborative secondary school.

 Media Arts Collaborative secondary school.

Working with Media Arts’ middle and high school staff, the day was a mixed bag . We began by exploring concepts from learning science (most at odds with today’s linear learning, standards and testing regimen), exploring the not-so-hidden effects of industrial age schooling, and reviewing current national achievement data for context. We transitioned to hands-on project design through visual provocations of the kind I do in STEM schools, some re-imagining of teacher roles in that kind of inquiry-based learning motif, and finally, sharing personal milestones for the upcoming school year. An intense and rewarding day.

 

New Mexico has a number of small progressive schools proudly peeking out from under a layer of bureaucracy that has not resulted in achievement gains or social-emotional improvement over the past eight years. They’re holding their own conversations and moving forward smartly. They’re worth a visit, your interest and your support. Adelante, New Mexico. 

 

    

 

Albuquerque Convention Center Plaza

Albuquerque Convention Center Plaza