VIDEO: NM makes $2 million investment to improve school leadership

By Rob Nikolewski on August 28, 2013
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SANTA FE – education is the mother of leadership.

Taking that to heart, New Mexico has committed a couple million dollars to a program focusing on turning around low-performing schools by nurturing leadership skills for principals and superintendents.

“There’s no way around it. I don’t care what kind of organization you’re talking about, leadership matters,” said , who has spent the past nine years with the .

TAKING THE LEAD: School principals take part in a turnaround program at the University of Virginia that focuses on leadership. Six school districts in New Mexico take part. Photo from the University of Virginia.

Working with the school of business at the University of Virginia, principals and school leaders spend two years in the program looking at effective and practical management strategies.

“This is not about turning education into a business,” Buntrock said. “Business schools eat, sleep and drink leadership … We do not do that in education.

“Have we been paying enough attention to how we select our leaders in the field of education for the past several years? I don’t think there are many people who would argue with that, that we just haven’t been doing it,” Buntrock said last week after speaking to the state’s .

Since 2004, 273 schools in 18 states have used the program.

For the past three years, six districts with 26 schools in New Mexico have taken part and, thanks to a $2 million appropriation from the Legislature, the plans to send additional school principals and staff to Virginia.

But is it worth it? Is New Mexico simply throwing good money after bad, spending $2 million in a state that critics say has gone from one fad to another to improve consistent 48th- and 49th-place finishes in national education studies?

In 2009, in fact, the , while not addressing the Virginia program specifically, reported improvement strategies tend to be slow and scattershot.

Yet has taken part in the Virginia program, and is a big fan.

“This is a game-changer for Las Cruces Public Schools,” Rounds told New Mexico Watchdog in a telephone interview. “It gives us a refocus and high-level techniques to see why students are learning or not … We’re seeing big turnarounds.

“We need to do this in New Mexico,” Rounds said. “But we have to be serious about and it and we have to spend serious money … This is not the be-all and end-all, but it works.”

There’s also some cautionary notes.

For example, while test scores in Las Cruces are up, in other places, some individual schools have seen numbers that are flat or even slightly down.

The saw a 16-point jump in math proficiency and an 11-point jump in reading proficiency between 2011 and 2013. But Los Lunas, while the numbers were up in most grades, saw a two-point drop in seventh-grade reading scores between and 2011 and 2013 and a 1.6 percent decline in 11th-grade math scores. Both districts took part in the UVA program.

“We’re trying to figure out why some numbers are moving the way they are,” Buntrock said.

A brief prepared for the committee rapped the program as being less successful for Native American students.

State , said the Virginia program doesn’t take into account the cultural differences inherent in students in New Mexico, compared to other states.

“I don’t care what anyone is else doing or what their results are,” Lopez said during the hearing. “I care about New Mexico.”

indicated that highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount.

“I hope this works,” state , told Buntrock at the LFC hearing, “because the status quo is not working.”

Update: , and a retired teacher, said, “I always support training. It sounds like a good program. It focuses on how to be a good leader and I support that … The only objection I would make is that we don’t need to fund a program from out of state and there’s the expense involved. We have a good program at UNM … I think that money is better spent in state.”

Here’s a video interview that New Mexico Watchdog conducted with Buntrock, who is now the program director at the :


Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski Contact Rob Nikolewski at and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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