New initiative to boost teacher, student success in Pojoaque

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From left: Terry C. Wallace, Jr., director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Jon Paul Romero, president of the Pojoaque Valley School District Board of Education and Sam Minner, president of New Mexico Highlands University celebrate launching the Regional Partnership School.   Courtesy Los Alamos National Laboratory

New initiative to boost teacher, student success in Pojoaque

By Arin McKenna

On Wednesday, Sept. 26, the Pojoaque Valley School Board (PVSD) celebrated a new partnership between the Pojoaque Valley School District, Los Alamos National Laboratory and New Mexico Highlands University – the launch of the new Regional Partnership School (RPS),

The initiative combines the expertise and resources of Pojoaque Valley Schools, LANL and Highlands to support improved teaching and learning, particularly in the crucial grades 4‒8, utilizing the Professional Development School (PDS) model. Participants anticipate the program will lead to better outcomes for teachers and students and is intended to be a model of innovation for New Mexico educators and policy makers.

Pojoaque Valley School District Board President Jon Paul Romero “I’m delighted Pojoaque can be a part of this innovative development,” said Jon Paul Romero, president of the PVSD Board of Education. “Our students deserve this.”

The RPS will be the first program in the state that strategically combines a school district, a university teacher education program and a major employer. Four education specialists from the laboratory will be supporting the initiative, which is being implemented across PVSD’s existing intermediate school, sixth grade academy and middle school.

“The value of education and the critical role it plays in the future success of both Northern New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory cannot be overstated,” said Terry C. Wallace, Jr., the Laboratory’s director. “Given this, we’re very excited to collaborate with our K-12 and higher education partners to bring a new approach to teacher professional development to Northern New Mexico. By helping to support our educators, we also support our students—and we all benefit.”Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Terry C. Wallace

The partners have spent the last year developing a plan which coordinates professional development for current in-service teachers and pre-service teachers from NMHU’s School of Education, with a focus on improving teacher preparation, enhancing professional development for all partners and, ultimately, improving achievement for the kids who are the recipients of the participants’ combined efforts.

New Mexico Highlands University President Sam Minner, who began his career as a teacher and spent much of his professional career preparing teachers and other school professionals for service, acknowledged that the Professional Development School training model is more complex than other training systems and more expensive to implement, but added that, “this model, when it works, is the absolutely best way to prepare high quality teachers. Better than campus-based programs. Better than Teach for America, Better than alternative programs.”

New Mexico Highlands University President Sam MinnerAccording to Minner, the PDS model is similar to that of a teaching hospital. The program combines solid theoretical preparation with “lots and lots and lots” of applied experienced followed by careful guidance and reflection about what that practical experience means.

The method is much more difficult, complex and expensive than simply offering classes on campus and sending new teachers for a short internship or student teaching. In a PDS model, professionals from K-12 and universities also work much more collaboratively to seriously address the real challenges schools face.

“I believe…and again…I think I could prove…that the single most critical variable predicting K-12 outcomes is teacher quality. It is number one…and I am always amazed by how little that is recognized in America,” Minner said.

Minner acknowledged that other factors, such as school infrastructure and good leadership are important to quality education.

“In the end, everything matters…at least to some degree. But what matters most…the number one single predictor of good outcomes…is teacher quality,” Minner said. “Want to make schools better. Stronger? Resulting in higher levels of achievement? Focus on teacher quality.”

Implementation of this five-year program starts this school year.

“There will be challenges along the way. There will be setbacks from time to time. But, it is a grand and bold experiment with a good chance of success,” Minner aid. “Let’s be strong and courageous as we forge ahead. When we meet obstacles, let’s address them with mutual respect and let’s also be kind and gentle with each other along the way. I vow to do all I can to support this effort.”

From left: Terry C. Wallace, Jr., Jon Paul Romero and Sam Minner sign the agreement cementing their collaboration on the the Regional Partnership School.