ELL increase reading proficiency by 60 percent; math by 30 percent

LOS LUNAS — A call from the New Mexico Public Education Department was the last thing Jeffery Hartog expected last Friday.

Hartog, the new principal at Katherine Gallegos Elementary, said he was sitting in his office, winding down for the week during a calm afternoon, when his secretary came in informing him a representative from the state education department was on the line.

“It’s never a good thing to get a call from the PED,” Hartog said with a chuckle. “That’s one of those things, like when the lawyer calls, you know it’s going to be bad news. When the PED calls, it’s almost certainly going to be bad news.”

Fearing the worst, the representative instead told him about the great strides his elementary school had made closing the proficiency gap for English Language Learners (ELL), earning them national recognition from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“It’s definitely a good thing for us and for Los Lunas Schools to have a light shown on us statewide that the things we are doing are working and we’re making some really good strides here in Los Lunas.”

An English Language Learner is a student, usually at the primary level, who comes to school proficient in a language other than English. In addition to their traditional studies, they are also learning to read and write in a new language.

In 2017 PARCC testing, zero percent of ELL students at KGE were proficient in either math or English language arts. By 2019, the elementary school increased the number zero to 30 percent proficient in math and 60 percent in reading.

“We didn’t take our ELL learners out of the classroom. We left them in the classroom and made sure they were getting really good instruction,” Hartog said. “We didn’t dumb anything down for them. We  expected them to rise to the bar and rise to the occasion rather than backing up for them.”

Hartog said part of the proficiency increase is due to many KGE teachers obtaining their TESOL endorsement — Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.

“That’s all kinds of different strategies for ELL learners —  making it relevant, building background knowledge, making sure they have an understanding of exactly what you’re talking about, those kinds of things,” he said.

Katherine Gallegos Elementary was one of two schools in the state to receive the recognition, along with Dixon Elementary School in the Española Public School District.

Although Hartog assumed the principal position at the beginning of the school year, he has worked at KGE as the assistant principal for the past two years.

The recognition allows for more Title I funds to flow into the elementary school, which Hartog will go towards some of the newer faculty to earn their TESOL endorsements and professional development to learn more strategies to use with ELL students.

The U.S. Department of Education directs Title 1 funding to schools with large low-income populations to increase learning opportunities for these students. Hartog said some of the funds directed to KGE will go towards three or four teachers so they may attend a national ESEA conference in 2022 in New Orleans.

“This is just another recognition of the hard work our teachers do right here in Los Lunas,” Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero said about Katherine Gallegos Elementary.

“I’m very proud of all of them. This is one example of where we are able to celebrate it, but there are so many more places around the district where wonderful things are happening for students.”

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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.