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Cheering for ‘A’ big achievement; Del Norte, Sidney Gutierrez schools earn public praise

Del Norte Elementary students cheer alongside New Mexico Secretary of Education Christopher Ruszkowski for being recognized as an “A” school along with Sidney Gutierrez Middle School Monday evening at the Goddard High School gym. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

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The New Mexico Secretary of Education didn’t just recognize Roswell schools for their academic achievements, but took some time to learn how they’re able to do it.

“It’s easy for the person in my role to get caught up in the Santa Fe inside baseball politics of the moment and not stay laser-focused on what’s happening in schools in classrooms,” said New Mexico Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski. “But, the fundamental task of the role of the responsibility of being at the PED is improve student achievement – to improve student outcomes.”

The secretary spoke with excitement in his voice as he welcomed students and faculty to join him on the stage at the Goddard High School gym after he congratulated Del Norte Elementary and Sidney Gutierrez Middle School.

Out of about the 850 schools in New Mexico, eight earned six A’s in a row. Sidney Gutierrez was one of the eight.

“You have a school like Sidney – sustained excellence over time since the beginning of school grades, that puts them in an elite class of about less than ten schools statewide that have earned an “A” every single year,” Ruszkowski said. “That’s an elite class of sustained excellence.”

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Ruszkowski said schools like Del Norte act as a symbol for the positive direction New Mexico schools are going.

“We’ve had about 124 schools that we’ve worked with directly that have been in that ‘D’ and ‘F’ category, and of that 124, through programs like principals pursuing excellence, we’ve had 37 of those 124 rise from a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ to an ‘A,’” he said with a smile. “So really, you have two different ‘A’ school stories here in Roswell.

“One, sustained excellence every single year – we need to celebrate that – we need to champion that – we need to learn from that. But, then you also have a school like Del Norte that is proving that just because you’re a school that has earned a ‘D’ or an ‘F’ in the past does not mean that if you don’t have the right school leadership, the right vision, the right focus on student data, the right focus on parent engagement, that you can earn an ‘A.’

“We’re also learning that demographics are not destiny. We have plenty of schools, I think of the 121 that earn an ‘A,’ approximately a quarter are serving more than 75 percent of the kids from low-income communities.”

Ruszkowski went on to recognize “two incredible principals that have been at the helm at Sidney and at Del Norte.”

“It should be a celebration,” Ruszkowski said. “Earning an ‘A’ is a big deal. It takes a lot of work at the school level to get there, and a particularly for a school like Del Norte, earning a D two years ago – they have to make a conscious choice to change practice.”

Susan Sanchez, interim superintendent at RISD, said she was proud of her chartered school, Sidney Gutierrez.

“Roswell schools have a collaborative partnership,” Sanchez said. “For many years I’ve had the privilege to work with Joe Andreas, our principal, since the inception of Sidney Gutierrez.

“I went to visit him this past year and we saw some great innovative, instructional practices that we’ll be bringing back to our middle schools. We’re always fortunate to get his students back into our schools and continuing to provide their improvement.”

Sanchez said she has also been watching the progress of Del Norte. As she came aboard in February, Sanchez said she was able to see the work of the previous principal and her staff.

“I was able to use a lot of the instructional Best Practices from the University of Virginia, our research with that turnaround project and – great results,” she said. “I didn’t expect anything less than that.”

The secretary of education said because the district works together and allows its teachers to have a voice, Roswell is a valued partner.

“It’s a district that I wished I visited every week,” Ruszkowski said. “Because every time I’m down here, I really get a good sense for where we need to learn and where we need to go.

“And I think Roswell, in many ways, is an emblematic district of where we are in New Mexico – we spend so much energy on our other districts, but Roswell’s one of our 10 biggest districts, and Roswell’s been a valued partner, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with them.”

Sanchez said RISD has other schools that have also received recognition for making great gains.

“We highlighted Sunset Elementary also that made the great gains earlier this year, and also El Capitan,” she said. “So I’m just ecstatic to see my schools in my district, and I’m looking forward to having several more in the future.”