For the first time in more than a decade, the New Mexico Public Education Department is updating its primary and secondary social studies standards for New Mexico public schools.
The current standards were last revised in 2009. At a workshop on Oct. 27, members of the Belen Board of Education discussed the new draft standards briefly and encouraged members of the community to weigh in with the state during the public hearing period.
Written comments may be submitted to the department through 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 12, and PED will hold a remote public hearing via Zoom from 1-5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 12.
According to information on the PED’s website, the proposed standards haven’t gone through the New Mexico Administrative Code rule development process, which will happen throughout the fall semester of the 2021-22 school year, if they are approved.
“The standards haven’t grown with the times,” said BCS Superintendent Lawrence Sanchez during the workshop. “PED has been working on this since late last year with a large group of educators and non educators.”
The draft rule was released on Sept. 28, and members of the public were given 45 days to comment on the proposed standards. Comments submitted to the PED will be taken into account and considered for the final standards, which will be released some time in January, Sanchez said.
“During the summer 2022, PED will be looking at and reviewing instructional materials and get that list out to districts. There will be hundreds of items on there to choose from — high-quality materials that align with the standards,” Sanchez said. “It’s a long list and districts are able to vet the materials and begin the initial adoption of the standards.”
Before instruction to the standards begins, the district will be deciding on materials and providing professional development to teachers, the superintendent said.
“The full standards will be implemented in the 2023-24 school year. Over next year and a half, districts will work to identify materials and training for teachers. It needs to be understood, districts and boards cannot reject the standards,” he said. “However, they can determine how to teach standards to their students.
“As we move forward, we want to make sure we’re being transparent and including all voices in our community. There will be opportunities when we vet the materials, there will be a chance for public comment and for community to come and see what is being considered, either virtually or in person.”
The superintendent said the district is forming an equity council to make sure all students are considered as educational decisions are being made.
“We want to look through the lens of the students and make sure we’re not leaving anyone out,” he said. “We still have room on the equity council, so if anyone is interest, call the superintendent’s office. We are going to work with people in the district to make sure what we’re teaching and how we’re teaching fits the needs of our district.”
The superintendent’s office can be reached at 505-966-1003.
Board president Jim Danner asked if civics was coming back into the high school curriculum under the new standards. Sanchez said civics would be part of the standards at all grade levels.
In today’s environment, being a good citizen is more important than ever before, Danner said.
“We must emphasize critical thinking. We need critical thinkers to look at something and made a decision,” Danner said. “… I think this is going to be critical to developing good citizens.”
Sanchez said he and Assistant Superintendent of Academics E. Renee Sanchez had begun meeting with local focus groups to determine what skills Belen graduates needed to successfully enter the workforce.
“One thing that came out was the ability to take information and reach a decision. ‘How do I do that without having to be told what to do?’ Teaching kids to find information, look at the different pieces and viewpoints and reach a decision,” the superintendent said. “It might be wrong, but they have to make decisions.”
Having community input during curriculum development is critical, said board member Larry Lindberg. He was critical of the state implementing the standards all at the same time, instead of phasing them in from the lower grades to high school.
“The younger grades come up through it but if you’re starting with 12 graders, they don’t have the background,” Lindberg said. “A lot of times when you implement a new curriculum, you start at ninth grade then move on up so they have the background when they move to the higher level.”
He also hoped the state understood the high cost of new materials and text books for new standards and curriculums.
“At one point, we thought if we went digital it would be cheaper but it’s just expensive as books,” he said. “The state is looking at a heck of a lot of money and I hope they can provide it.”
Lindberg said he is glad to see the teaching of tolerance in the standards, adding the community input and ability of the district to select its own materials made the process less objectionable to him.
Aubrey Tucker, the board’s vice president, said he was glad to see the civics component coming back.
“Whenever we are diving into these things, I want people to remember in the age of ‘I can Google it,’ or Facebook it or whatever, don’t forget about books. They can’t be manipulated or changed,” Tucker said. “If you have a place where you can find a book, you can read about your history. The only way to improve today is to understand your past. If you don’t understand your past, you can’t create a future.
“Creating good citizens means knowing history. It doesn’t mean pointing fingers. It means learning from it and moving forward.”
The BCS administration has been tasked with looking at how the district can best use the standards to improve citizenship, Danner said, noting that being a civil servant is not a bad thing.
“Service is not bad … being a public servant is taught through social studies. We do this because somewhere in our life, a teacher said being a public servant was important,” he said. “It’s not seen as important right now and when we lost interest, we lose people running for school board, city council, state representative.”
Tucker encouraged members of the public to take the time to look at the proposed standards and give PED feedback.
“We have nothing to hide right now. I don’t want the story in 22-23 to be ‘Why didn’t you ask us?’ Here’s your opportunity,” he said. “We want to let the public know we want input. This is your time.”
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.