Pay teachers and their support staff.
That’s at the top of the legislative priorities for the National Education Association of New Mexico, a coalition that surveyed thousands of teachers in the state.
Wages, health care, better time planning instruction, support for community schools, attention to class size and early childhood education are the six pillars the group will lobby legislators for in January to support educators across the state.
There were 899 empty educator positions across the state in all subjects and grade levels in 2020, according to a report. The association says the shortage is acute enough that it’s actually a crisis, and a big factor is the lack of competitive compensation. Teachers in the state make 30% less than people who graduate college and go on to other professions, according to an Economic Policy Institute study.
NEA-NM president Mary Parr-Sanchez said she saw the benefit for community charter schools in Las Cruces, where she was an educator for 25 years. She was part of the effort to transition Lynn Middle School into a community school that reformed its curriculum, attendance policies and how it attracts student achievement.
“It was like a lightning bolt moment for me, that ‘Wow, I’ve got this coalition of partners, which is exactly what a community schools framework needs. And we all have that data and the research to tell us that having this type of school as a hub in the community, and one that has shared leadership, leads to very high parent engagement,’ ” she said.
Community school programs are a benchmark for the association, she said, and should be adopted statewide.
“One of the first steps that a community school does is hire somebody called an onsite coordinator,” Parr-Sanchez said. “That is a person who is not just starting their career but it’s a person who can work with parents in the community, and the staff in the school.”
That coordinator looks at what the school needs and what assets it has.
Parr-Sanchez said this process surveys the school community for the problems that should be addressed and takes the resources the school has to try and fix those areas of concern. At Lynn Middle School, she said one strategy connected students to nonprofit organizations, such as a carpentry trade group.
“In Las Cruces, for example, there was a place called Cruces Creatives. They basically run a safe place where kids can learn woodworking. That’s amazing,” she said. “And they have the mentors already there, like community resources. It’s just hard to get connected to those resources.”
Other priorities the association would like to see for lawmakers include a 10% across-the-board pay increase for educators, funding for a residency model to recruit and retain more teachers, and a fully funded program for increases in teacher pay determined by experience and licensure.
The National Education Association of New Mexico also wants the Legislature to require school districts to pay 80% of health insurance premiums for employees and create long-term solvency for the New Mexico Retiree Health Care Authority.
The group is also asking the state to factor in adequate time for educators to prepare for classroom instruction. “Most educators get a 45-minute period a day where they’re not actually teaching a class,” Parr-Sanchez said. “You will not have one second in the day where you can actually think about what you need to do to adapt your instruction for the kids that are right in front of you.” That means no time for networking with other educators to talk about kids who are struggling and strategies that might be working for other teachers with those students.
The educators want legislators to prohibit “blanket class size waivers” and ban loopholes that allow class size averages to be counted, obscuring the real numbers in some large classes. They are calling for funding to be restored so there are enough staff members that class sizes can be smaller. This includes support staff, who they want to see making a $15 minimum wage.
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