The year 2020 was full of challenges. Rather than curse the darkness and light a candle, the Santa Fe Public Schools lit a bonfire of opportunity and optimism.

With the leadership of our committed and student-focused Board of Education, we adopted a can-do attitude, reinventing learning as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Joining us were amazing governmental partners, volunteer organizations and district volunteers.

Teachers, school site staff, counselors, nurses, custodians, nutrition workers, principals and assistant principals have done phenomenal work keeping students engaged and progressing. The heart of our work is at the school sites, and district leadership and staff are committed to ensuring that we support teaching and learning every day.

We all share in the district’s accomplishments, including being one of the first to stand up a remote-learning program when the pandemic hit, then refining this effort. With broad community feedback, remote learning today is remarkably different. We remain deeply committed to a continuous improvement process, making adjustments along the way.

Equity has been addressed in very real ways, from launching the new Help U Homework Hotline, to delivering 600 hot spots and figuring out other free internet options for our families, to delivering food to our communities, to addressing homelessness, to bringing unaccounted students back to school.

Though 547 students were missing or disenrolled, all but seven have been found. We will not rest until we find every student. Most of these students have left for home-schooling, private schools or other communities. We miss them and invite them back.

Our buildings are ready. They are properly ventilated and marked for proper distancing. plexiglass barriers have been installed and personal protective equipment is broadly available. Notably, there was no transmission of COVID-19 during our voluntary hybrid program in the fall.

Bringing students back to school safely is our top priority. Many students have struggled with social interaction, frustrations with the internet and social-emotional issues. Nothing takes the place of being in school.

Despite it all, Santa Fe Public Schools remains a flagship district.

In 2020, we prioritized the most essential functions. The new Equity, Diversity and Engagement Department was created with existing resources and the Indian education program was elevated to a department with a director, giving it heightened status.

The district’s graduation rate is 78 percent, exceeding the state’s average rate of 75 percent. As we reach for 100 percent, we want graduates to have grit, be civic-minded, show persistence and be kind and compassionate.

Piñon Elementary School was named a prestigious National Blue Ribbon School for its exemplary efforts to close the achievement gap.

Santa Fe Public Schools was awarded the 2020 Community Leadership Award for Digital Equity from the Consortium for School Networking, made possible by voter support of financing for educational technology.

Santa Fe Public Schools received $2.1 million from New Mexico Highlands University to ensure students are college and career ready and $2.7 million from the New Mexico Public Education Department to build early literacy.

A Capital High School team just won the 2020 Congressional App Challenge for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.

We want to remain on pace, but funding is a concern. We began this school year with an $8.2 million deficit, cutting positions, contract services, professional development, etc., though not in schools. We anticipate a $7.6 million budget loss for next year due to declining enrollment, continued loss of funds for small schools, increases to insurance, and fixed costs and other funding impacts.

Our voice joins others who are urging the Legislature to hold school districts harmless next year, thus protecting them from the financial impact of this year’s enrollment decline.

As we stand on the cusp of 2021, rest assured, our bonfire glows brightly.

Veronica C. García, Ed.D., is superintendent of the Santa Fe Public Schools.

(2) comments

Emily Ewings

Almost everything in this article is the same thing being done everywhere else. The real opportunity is in changing a system that is still fundamentally 100 years old and based on a New England model of education. We need to offer more ways to earn credits and advance through school, and we need far more policies that align with local culture and tradition.

Cathryn Miller

Yes, all of these accomplishments over the past year are to be commended, Superintendent Garcia. But until year-round schooling and a 9-5 school day which matches the parent’s workday are implemented, the academic losses from this pandemic year will remain irretrievable. Let’s truly innovate going forward in 2021.

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