ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A teacher town hall in Albuquerque that focuses on New Mexico's high dropout rates, especially among Latino students, is drawing PBS NewsHour senior correspondent Ray Suarez as part of a campaign to bring national attention to the increasing number of students who don't graduate.
Suarez is scheduled to moderate next week's town hall, which is expected to draw close to 200 teachers from around the state. The forum at the University of New Mexico will give teachers a chance to offer solutions amid planned reforms in the state, he said.
"There are interesting things happening in New Mexico," Suarez told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "So, it'll be great to talk to teachers there ... and also some schools that are representative of the problem."
The Albuquerque event comes after Gov. Susana Martinez announced her administration is developing a new teacher evaluation system this summer.
A teacher evaluation proposal passed the House earlier this year but died in the Senate. Martinez said this week she will use administrative rules to make the changes the Legislature did not.
Under her proposal, the new system would base 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations on their students' academic achievement. The plan would be fully in place by fall 2013.
The Public Education Department will propose regulations next month and then hold public hearings. But Ellen Bernstein, president of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation, called the governor's proposal nothing more than "evaluation by edict" and said teachers will oppose the plan.
New Mexico promised to change its evaluation system as part of a federally approved plan allowing the state to implement its own school grading program rather than follow the mandates of the No Child Left Behind law.
A report last month showed that New Mexico and other western states are lagging when it comes to improving their graduation rates. The report puts Arizona and New Mexico in a group of 10 states that had lower rates in 2009 than they did seven years earlier.
Although New Mexico students have made gains in math and reading during the past six years, about three-fourths of schools missed the latest targets for boosting student achievement, according to the test results for the 2009-10 school year.
Karen Sanchez-Griego, principal at Atrisco Heritage Academy, a largely Latino high school on Albuquerque's Westside, said she was glad that New Mexico was getting some attention through the town hall for its educational challenges.
"People are starting to realize that the economic impact of the lack of education in this state is unacceptable," said Sanchez-Griego, who is preparing for her new school's first graduating class. "For things to change, all reforms have to be bipartisan and must include everyone. Just because we have different vantage points, it doesn't mean we don't want the same things for our kids."
Bernstein agreed that any reforms should take into account all parties. Still, Bernstein said she was excited about the upcoming town hall since teachers' views recently "have been sidelined" in New Mexico.
For the Brooklyn-born Suarez, one of the few high-profile, national Latino journalists in the country, the cause of fighting the dropout rates hits close to home.
"My wife and I were lucky to get an advanced education," he said. "Then there's another conversation that's happening as I look out across the country and I know that high schools in the Bronx and in Chicago ... with large Latino populations, are not succeeding by the stats."
The town hall is part of a Corporation for Public Broadcasting national campaign, "American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen," aimed at tackling dropout rates across the country. The multi-year campaign calls for similar town halls in other cities.
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