Lt. Gov. Howie Morales addresses the League of Women Voters Tuesday at Mesa Public Library. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Community members listen to Lt. Gov. Howie Morales Tuesday at the League of Women Voters Lunch with a Leader event at Mesa Public Library. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales told a large crowd at the League of Women Voters’ Lunch with a Leader event Tuesday that collaboration, communication and cooperation are not that difficult if you have people at the table who are willing to govern.
An educator himself who holds a PhD in curriculum and instruction with a dual emphasis in computer learning technologies and management and leadership from New Mexico State University, Morales addressed the change in focus for education under the new administration. He said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has made it well-known from the beginning is that the state can’t succeed there is collaboration in all areas.
“We can’t succeed in the Public Education Department if we’re not paying attention to the Children Youth and Families Department. We can’t succeed with higher education if we also don’t take into consideration what’s needed in the Corrections Department. One way or another every single one of our agencies is connected. I think that’s something we continue to stress,” he said.
Morales said many times people hear about the “negatives of New Mexico”.
“But I can tell you last week I was in Chicago and I sat on a panel and the week before I was in Washington, DC, on another panel. What’s out there is there’s something happening in the state of New Mexico. There’s a different feel, there’s a different energy, something is taking place that’s being noticed across the nation. And I’m proud to say that I’m from New Mexico. I’m proud to say that we’re part of the changes that are occurring,” he said. “We have a long way to go. I’m not going to make any excuses about that, but there’s something to be said about energy!”
Morales said on Jan. 2, Governor Lujan Grisham told him her idea for education was going to be implemented from Day One and that she wanted him to take on not only the role of Lt. Governor but also the role of Cabinet Secretary for Public Education Department. He said she gave him a gift – the gift of the opportunity to go in and really move forward what she wanted in education which was to change the culture of how education is operating in the state.
Morales said getting rid of PARCC testing is not lowering but raising the bar. He said spoke of the positive effects of changing the teacher evaluation system that has driven educators out of education noting that there are 740 teacher vacancies in the state.
“A lot left because they felt they weren’t being evaluated fairly, that they weren’t being given an opportunity to be at the table and that there was a system in place that was punitive,” he said.
Morales said the message went out to the school districts that the PED was no longer going to be a department that would go in as a compliance officer, looking for areas in which the schools are failing.
“We’re going to be operating as a police department no longer; we’re going to be operating as a service department, a resource department, and assist those school districts that need the assistance. That’s a shift and it’s part of the energy we see right now. And it’s why people across the nation are really starting to take note, with schools and educators going on strike all over the country. We’ve had our share of issues. We’ve had our share of struggles. Fortunately, we ‘ve learned from that and we’re turning the corner. I think that’s exciting when we see the opportunities that we have right now,” he said.
Morales spoke of the almost $500 million put into K – 12 by the Legislature.
“We are paying attention to those students who are most at risk – our English language learners, our special education students, our students who come from adverse childhood experiences, recognizing that they’re all part of our students and that we need to provide them support,” he said. Morales said the changes have not been made because of the Yazzie vs Martinez lawsuit, but because “it’s the right thing to do. Putting our dollars into areas that are most important for our children and our educators” He spoke of the 6 percent increases in pay for education personnel as well as the raising of teacher salaries to $40,000 for Levil 1, $50,000 for Level 2 and $60,000 for Level 3.
Morales stressed the importance of making sure schools have the wrap-around services they need such as health care and psychological services, and that each school has the counselors that are supposed to be there.
“It’s important that we recognize that all these tie into place for what it is that schools need to succeed,” he said. “We don’t just want to do something to say we did it – it has to be best practices. We have to make sure it’s based in evidence.”
Morales addressed the consolidation of early childhood educational services under one umbrella by SB 22 which created the Department of Early Learning. He said those services used to be spread out over four agencies and noted that rather than growing government, the change actually streamlines it.