About 15-20 people attended the meeting in the Hermosa Middle School cafeteria where state Education Secretary Hanna Skandera gave a presentation on changes and new goals for education in New Mexico.

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FARMINGTON — Area educators spoke to state Education Secretary Hanna Skandera tonight during a meeting about the state's proposed Every Student Succeeds Act education plan.

About 15-20 people attended the meeting in the Hermosa Middle School cafeteria where Skandera gave a presentation on changes and new goals for education in New Mexico.

The state's Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on April 3 as part of an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the national education law.

Skandera's presentation lasted through most of the meeting and was followed by a question and answer session.

She highlighted several efforts to adjust the state's teacher evaluation and support programs, and student testing that were prompted by a statewide tour last year to solicit input on the ESSA plan.

"We want you to know we heard you and it mattered," Skandera said.

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Skandera talked about changes to the state's NMTEACH Educator Effectiveness system, reductions in the time students spend on state testing and nearly 20 initiatives launched in the last year to support educators.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced on April 2 an increase in the number of sick leave days teachers can take before being penalized. The number was increased from three to six days. Critics say other states don't penalize teachers for taking sick days they are allocated, but Skandera said there had been a problem in New Mexico with teachers being out of the classroom too often, which hinders student learning. She said the approach also reduces the number of days substitute teachers are needed, saving the state money.

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A change to teacher evaluations announced by Martinez allows more input from classroom observers who are in the best position to evaluate teacher effectiveness. And measures of student achievement, which had been as much as 50 percent of a teacher's rating, have been reduced to 35 percent.

Teachers at tonight's meeting asked Skandera questions on subjects that included the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, exam, state funding and the sick leave change.

One woman in the audience told Skandera it was ridiculous teachers were penalized for taking sick leave, stating it was disrespectful.

Skandera said she heard similar concerns during the listening tour, which led to the current changes. She said discussions will continue to improve the system.

Jessica Carlisle, the head of the gifted department at Farmington High School, said after the meeting it was nice that Skandera acknowledged communication from the state education department wasn't always clear.

Carlisle added she appreciated efforts by department officials to speak directly to and work with teachers.

"It's really nice to have that platform to ask that question," Carlisle said.

Skandera spoke about programs to support teachers including the Teacher-Leader Network.

The program gives a current roster of 50 teachers open communication to state education department officials about what is and isn't working in the classroom.

Phil Valdez, deputy superintendent for Farmington Municipal School District, said after the meeting it was impressive the state education department made the commitment to visit communities and open lines of communication.

Farmington was one of several cities Skandera visited last year to solicit input on the ESSA plan.

Valdez said he believes the goals Skandera introduced are more obtainable than past goals.

One of the goals Skandera discussed was the "Route to 66" plan.

It aims to have 66 percent of "working age New Mexicans earning a college degree or post-secondary credential by the year 2030," according to a draft of the state plan.

"It gives us something to stretch for because (it is) pretty bold and align(s) with our (district) strategic plan," Valdez said.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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