It was all smiles and smooth sailing last week around the Taos area as students readied their backpacks, pencils and minds for the first full week of the 2017-18 school year, according to school officials.
Students from Peñasco to Questa, filed into their new classrooms and routines while administrators in the districts readied for another year in the world of education. Despite recent stresses of released Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) scores and the Public Education Department’s school grades, teachers and staff are ready to take the on the year and said they only had minor hiccups for the first week of school. In good news to students and staff, cuts from last year’s budget uncertainties are going to be kept at a minimum at most schools in the area.
“The first week was smooth with no big issues,” said Peñasco Independent School District Superintendent Marvin MacAuley. “We cut where we can, and ultimately it’s service to the students, which is most important and that’s where we make cuts last.”
While operating on a smaller budget than previous years, MacAuley said PISD has received some grants to make up for some of the shortfalls and is even looking at possibly bringing back wrestling at the middle school level. Last week, PISD also installed new technology systems in their schools to make communication a bit easier. Aside from minor issues with that, the district is ready to tackle the school year and looks to improve student wellness and achievement and had hired eight new teachers for the new year.
Students at Taos Municipal Schools also enjoyed a good first week in what Superintendent Dr. Lillian Torrez called the “best year ever.” According to Finance Director Bobby Spinelli, TMS received and additional $13.31 per student, or unit, for the 2017-18 school year. While the increase is not much Torrez said the district will work with what it has to improve student scores and learning for the year.
“We are always working on reading and language arts,” Torrez said, “but this year we are focusing on math, especially at the middle school level.”
After the released PARCC scores indicated less than 10 percent of Taos Middle School students who took the test are proficient in math, the middle school has adopted a new program in hopes of elevating their students’ abilities in the subject. Due to these results, new strategies and technologies are being implemented in the school and Torrez is confident they will show results over time.
“It takes years, it doesn’t happen over night,” she said.
In addition to improving score grades and student learning, schools in the area will look this year to either improve or maintain the school grades released Monday (Aug. 21) by the state Public Education Department to the schools. Many schools in the area improved their grades from previous years and others fell a letter or two in the process, but all districts are working to the best of their abilities.
School grades from the PED are based on such factors as test scores, attendance, student improvement among other factors and are on a letter grading scale of A to F, with A being the best grade. Grades are available to the public and can be viewed by parents, community members and those looking to move to a certain district. While PED grades and test scores may not be the best indicator of a school’s academic growth, according to officials, schools are still striving to make minor improvements for the new year.
“We know that we’re moving up,” said Torrez. “The teachers know we’re moving up.”
Taos Municipal Schools mostly saw stable grades from the past year to current with Enos Garcia Elementary improving their F grade to a D this year. Other schools in the district also saw significant growth including Questa High School which improved their 2016 C grade to a B. Peñasco Elementary improved their 2016 F grade to a D, however the high school did drop from their C grade from the previous year.
Charters in the area also saw improvement in their school grades from previous years with Taos Integrated School of the Arts raising their D grade to a B, while Taos Academy holds strongly onto their A grade they have received for several years.
For more information on individual school grades, see aae.ped.state.nm.us/