LL Schools chosen to participate in national turnaround program

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The New Mexico Public Education Department selected the Los Lunas School District to participate in a school turnaround program developed by the Curry Institute of Education, a school of the University of Virginia.

The Los Lunas School District has already participated in the University's Darden School of Management leadership program since 2007, one of the top management schools in the nation.

"Leadership drives everything, if you have good leaders in place, the rest will follow," said Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Bernard Saiz.

Saiz has participated in the leadership program for three years.

The Darden School and the Curry Institute collaborated on a program called the Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education, which focused on turning around low performing schools.

The Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education has received national attention by collaborating with some 82 school districts in 12 states, the website states.

A month ago, Hanna Skandara, New Mexico secretary of education designee, asked the superintendent if he might like to send a group of his school officials to the university's school-turn-around program, he said.

The program offers strategies for how to turn low performing schools around to make them high performing schools with a focus on school principals.

A team from the Curry Institute evaluated selected districts across the nation, Los Lunas among them, to see if the schools had the capacity to succeed, Saiz said.

"They were very impressed with the programs we have in place, the curriculum, and said they were some of the best in the country," Saiz said.

"My leadership team, my assistant superintendent level and director level people, they were impressed with most of our principals … Absolutely, we are a candidate for this program."

Another Curry team interviewed the principals of Ann Parish Elementary, Valencia Middle School, Century and Los Lunas high schools.

"They use what's called a 'behavior event interview,'" Saiz said.

The principals were asked to tell a story about a positive situation that occurred where they felt successful, and a situation they didn't feel was a success.

In the process, the principals were scored on different points.

What the team is looking for is how the principals perform in the area of setting achievement goals, taking initiative, being persistent in getting what needs to be done in monitoring staff performance and the ability to give appropriate directives, Saiz said.

"They looked at the principal's ability to have an impact on people, on their ability to plan ahead, their team leadership, setting a mission, inspiring their staff, their ability to develop another's capacities and help that person to develop as a subordinate," he said.

"They looked at the principal's analytical thinking skills, how one concept relates to another and what kind of (consequence) effect it might have, conceptual thinking and self confidence. All of our principals did pass the screening."

State public education departments from around the nation have contracted with the university for the school turn around training, and the New Mexico Public Education Department selected Las Cruces and Los Lunas school districts.

"What meant a lot to me was the (University of Virginia) people told me that, 'With all the programs you have in place, the qualifications of your administrators, your curriculum models, you are poised to be one of the best in the nation, not just the best in the state,'" Saiz said.

"They actually told me that most of the schools they go into don't have as many resources and pieces in place as they have seen here in Los Lunas Schools."

What the team found lacking in the district was direct support and assistance for the principals of the low performing schools in developing their abilities.

During the week of July 21 to 27, the four principals and central office staff members, including the Assistant Superintendent for Staff and Student Services Dana Sanders, Assistant Superintendent of Operations Ron Williams, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Brian Baca, and Saiz will travel to the University of Virginia to participate in the Curry Institute of Education school turnaround training.

Both the training and travel will be paid for by the state Public Education Department, Saiz said.

What is learned will be implemented at the schools starting this fall, and next summer school officials will attend further training.

It is understood the process can take a couple of years, but the Curry Institute expects certain things to be implemented within the first 90-days, Saiz said.

"The Los Lunas School District was selected this year because it is considered one of the most innovative school districts," he said.

"These people from out of state told me we are poised to be the best in the nation, but our curriculum are not being followed uniformly throughout the district."


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.