Reducing the amount of required data New Mexico schools have to file with the state is at the center of a recently-completed overhaul at the New Mexico Public Education Department.
While school administrators in Lea County hope the lightening of the requirements will help, many are still waiting for specifics of the plan.
“I don’t think we’ll realize the full value (of the plan) until we have a full year behind us,” said Gene Strickland, superintendent of the Hobbs Municipal School District. “In terms of the overall effect, it will be a year before we feel the overall effect of it.”
Brian Snider, superintendent of Jal Municipal schools, agreed.
“I’m curious to see what’s included in it, what paperwork is going to be reduced. We haven’t really seen how it’s going to work here in Jal,” he said.
The overhaul at PED comes from a May 23 executive order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham calling for a minimum 25 percent reduction in the “administrative burden for teachers and school administrators” in time for the recent school year start, according to a PED release.
PED Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, who served as superintendent in the Los Alamos school district, was quoted in the release acknowledging the amount of time involved in meeting the requirements.
“As a former superintendent, I know very well how much time it takes to meet the state’s data-collection needs,” Steinhaus said. “As education secretary, I also know we depend on districts and schools to supply essential data to guide our work. We have now struck the correct balance and right-sized our reporting requirements.
The biggest parts of the plan deal with paperwork associated with Student Assistance Team, campus-based groups “providing additional support to students who are experiencing academic or behavioral difficulties that are preventing the students from benefiting from general education because they are either performing below or above expectations,” according to the New Mexico Public Education Department website.
Strickland, based on preliminary discussion with PED last week, said districts could see about a 41 percent reduction in SAT requirements from the state.
Another area where superintendents have already noticed a reduction in paperwork is in required education plans, part of the annual budgeting process.
The plan outlines how districts use the state funding they receive for education and instruction, Strickland said. Typically running into hundreds of pages, he said the most recent education plan Hobbs Schools submitted was “significantly smaller.”
Strickland said, while filling out the education plan to accompany this year’s budget, staff noticed more information was automatically included, for example, indicating at least part of the overhaul at PED was already in place. That made the process simpler and quicker to complete, he said.
A significant portion of the paperwork required from school districts in New Mexico and around the country is related to federal dollars, including grants and other funding for everything from nutrition services via the U.S. Department of Agriculture to educating children with special needs. Providing information to both state and federal education departments frequently results in duplication of effort, the superintendents said, which they hope will be addressed under the new NMPED rules.
“Our STARS (Student Teacher Accountability Reporting System) data collection has everything under the sun about our kids,” Eunice Schools Superintendent Dwain Haynes said. “I’ve often wondered out loud with the PED why we can’t have the software ability to provide all the info they need. That’s where the duplication comes in.”
Greg Slover, Tatum superintendent, agreed. In smaller school districts particularly, he said, the burden for data reporting often falls on too few educators wearing too many hats.
“You don’t realize how much paperwork (for different programs) add to a teacher,” Slover said. “Even if it’s just a little here and there, it really piles up on teachers and administrators.”
The redundancy “is exactly the problem. (Steinhaus) realizes that. He’s working hard to cut out some of that redundancy but it’s not a thing that happens overnight.”
Teachers, too, said they’d welcome a reduction in the amount of paperwork required daily. Sylvester Fininen, a fifth-grade teacher, and Yvonne Cabello, a first-grade teacher, both at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Hobbs, said 50 to 60 percent of their time is consumed with paperwork.
“In reality, we do parts of it here and parts of it there,” said Cabello, whose been teaching for about seven years. Getting rid of redundancies in reporting “would be great. I would have more time to teach and more time to prepare to teach. It’s going to give (students) more time to absorb and process what they’re learning.”
Fininen, whose taught for around 13 years, agreed.
Cutting down the amount of data reporting and paperwork he’s required to do every day would give him the opportunity to work closer with his students one-on-one and better monitor their use of technology, which is increasing steadily in the classroom.
“I’d have the opportunity to go over and help them” if he’s not filling out forms, Fininen said. “Helping build their knowledge on things they need to look at. With individualized class assistance … we can help them to understand the topics we’re teaching them better.”
That’s the bottom line for most if not all educators, Slover from Tatum said. That’s why teachers became teachers in the first place, to educate, not spend all of their time filling out forms, he said.
“We’d kind of like to teach and take care of our kids,” Slover said. “Constantly asking for the same data is very time consuming. In a small school like Tatum, that kind of redundancy … takes us away from what we’d like to be doing.”