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FARMINGTON — Two schools in the Farmington Municipal School District have been selected for a state teacher mentoring and training program to improve student achievement in struggling schools.

Animas Elementary and Heights Middle schools were two of the eight schools statewide that were selected for the Teachers Pursuing Excellence program.

Schools in the Alamagardo, Belen and Peñasco districts were also selected for the program, according to Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt.

The Teachers Pursuing Excellence program is a two-year program in which mentors are assigned to teachers, and the district will work to implement specialized training based on the teacher's NMTEACH teacher evaluation score.

The $2.5 million program was announced in December 2014 by Gov. Susana Martinez and is modeled after the Principals Pursuing Excellence program.

School board President Kyle Rhodes made the announcement during Thursday's board meeting with Heights Middle School Principal Nate Pierantoni and Animas Elementary School Principal Emily Foose in attendance.

"I think it's a great testament to the hard work the staff at (Heights) have been doing for years," Pierantoni said in an interview Thursday morning.

During an interview Thursday morning, Schmidt said the selection by the New Mexico Public Education Department to pilot the program shows confidence in the school district.

"It speaks highly of our leadership in the district and commitment to improve learning," Deputy Superintendent Phil Valdez said in an interview Thursday morning.

Both schools received a school grade of D for the 2013-2014 school year from the state education department.

Schmidt said he believed too many Farmington schools had a grade of D or F.

According to the state education department website, four schools received a D and four schools received an F out of the district's 17 schools.

"We feel a sense of urgency to get us doing smarter work," Schmidt said.

Valdez said the leadership Foose and Pierantoni displayed in the Principals Pursuing Excellence program factored into both schools being selected.

Valdez said the data from teacher observations is being used to specify the type of professional development each school will receive.

He said the state education department's Priority School Bureau developed a report from the teacher observation data on skills the teachers can receive training on.

Foose said it was a huge honor to be selected for the program.

She welcomed the opportunity to specify training for her teachers, stating professional development tends to be taught in a "one size fits all" dynamic.

"I think it's going to be great journey," Foose said in an interview Thursday morning.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.

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