Farmington, Berlin educators team up to fight language barriers

Partnership shares successful strategies from PED's Principals Pursuing Excellence program

Megan Petersen
Farmington Daily Times
Local educators meet with education leaders from Berlin, Germany, on Tuesday at Animas Elementary School in Farmington.
  • Four German teachers have taught in Farmington schools since the partnership began in 2014.
  • Berlin, Germany's capital, has approximately the same population as the state of New Mexico.
  • Farmington administrators have visited Berlin to borrow ideas from the German education system to use locally.


FARMINGTON — The Farmington Municipal School District played host to educational leaders from Berlin, Germany, this week as part of a three-year partnership and exchange program that aims to share solutions to issues faced by schools in New Mexico and in Berlin.

“Even though Berlin is a long ways away, we’re having the same questions to the same kinds of problems, so it’s an international opportunity to share ideas that we’re very excited about,” said Eugene Schmidt, superintendent of Farmington Municipal School District, during a group interview today.

A group of Farmington administrators — including Animas Elementary School Principal Emily Foose and Heights Middle School Vice Principal Donny Ortiz, as well as district administrators — have spent the past two days with four department heads from the Berlin Senate Department of Education, Youth and Families.

Berlin, the capital of and largest city in Germany, has approximately the same population as New Mexico, according to Nate Pierantoni, assistant director of school improvement and data analysis for Farmington schools. Both public education systems include a large number of students whose primary language is not the one widely used in government and schools.

That entails thousands of Spanish-speaking students in New Mexico whose second language is English, and thousands of immigrant and refugee students in Berlin whose native tongues are not widely used in their new country.

Christiane Blume, head of Department I in the Berlin Senate Department for Education, Youth and Families, was among the German education officials who paid a visit to Animas Elementary School in Farmington on Tuesday.


“We have immigrants coming to our city from Iraq and (other countries in) Eastern Europe,” said Christian Blume, head of Department I of the Berlin State Department for Education, Youth and Families. “Many people come to Berlin, and we teach in German and we have to teach in English, so we have the same challenge, the same problems, and we find nearly the same solutions. It’s fascinating.”

The Berlin delegation is taking home lessons that Farmington schools have learned through Principals Pursuing Excellence, a New Mexico Public Education Department program that focuses on principal leadership to improve student achievement, Pierantoni said.

“Knowing that Farmington has really championed this initiative around empowering and developing school leaders, (the Berlin Delegation) came to work with us, and we really worked closely with the Public Education Department to understand what a model for growing school leaders looks like when you roll it out at scale,” Pierantoni said, adding that Berlin leaders and educators are "working to impact as many kids as quickly as possible through the power of the principalship.”

German education official Christiane Kose takes part in meeting with Farmington educators Tuesday at Animas Elementary School in Farmington.


Farmington’s school leadership is taking pages from the Berliners' books, too.

Over the past few years, Foose, Ortiz and Pierantoni have all visited and toured the German education system and said they hoped to integrate some German teaching practices in local schools, including teacher collaboration, greater student independence, technical and vocational programs for younger students, and the opportunity for high school students to begin focusing on a career path before graduation.

The group of eight education leaders also visited Santa Fe on Monday to present the progress of an ongoing teacher exchange program and share news of the partnership inspired by the PPE program with leaders from the state government, according to Pierantoni.

The partnership began three years ago when Ortiz, whose wife is from Germany, saw an opportunity to help solve the school district’s teacher shortage through a teacher exchange program, Schmidt said.

Four teachers from Germany have come to Farmington to teach in local classrooms since then, according to Pierantoni. This year, Susanne Lorenz, a special education teacher at Animas Elementary School, and Tina Weber, a seventh-grade English-language arts teacher at Heights Middle School, are German exchange teachers.

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or