New Mexico’s Kids Deserve Great Public Schools So We're Launching NewMexicoKidsCAN

Feb 2, 2018 12:00:00 AM

by Amanda Aragon

So many things make New Mexico enchanting. There are sunsets over the Sandia Mountains, adobe buildings with hundred-year histories, lush green bosque surrounding our life-giving Rio Grande and hundreds of hot air balloons that dance in our October skies. But the most beautiful part of New Mexico is our children—all 347,000 enrolled in public schools—and their ability to reach their full potential. To deliver on that promise, I launched NewMexicoKidsCAN: The New Mexico Campaign for Achievement Now, a nonprofit organization committed to grassroots advocacy, truth-telling and working with lawmakers to win community-informed, student-centered and research-backed education policies. Since our campaign debuted on Jan. 17, 2018, we’ve hit the ground running with policy goals that promote equity, accountability and transparency, and advance the licensure of our best teachers. You can help us achieve these goals by taking action today.

MY STORY

NewMexicoKidsCAN uses data and research to drive our work, but my unwavering advocacy is grounded in my life experience. I was born in Barelas—the part of Albuquerque where my grandparents raised their family and where my parents had planned to raise ours. But my parents were faced instead with a complicated reality: Our location would impact the quality of education my siblings and I received, and they couldn’t afford to send all of their children to private schools. Twice in my childhood, low-performing local schools forced my parents to uproot our family—first away from our relatives in the South Valley of Albuquerque, and then farther west to the suburb of Rio Rancho—to give my siblings and me access to better schools. Yet no matter where a child is born or how much money their parents earn, every child deserves a fair shot at a bright future—and that shot unfolds in the classroom, from pre-K through college. My story is one of many, and I’m humbled to acknowledge that my parents had the privilege of relocating to accommodate my education. For the countless families that cannot move away from their school districts and neighborhood schools, it’s time to write new stories—because nobody should have to move to get a good education.

THE PATH FORWARD

We advocate at NewMexicoKidsCAN because we have great hope for the future of our state’s educational system, and how it can transform the lives of our students. We also know that we have to be realistic. New Mexico has a long way to go before every child has access to an equitable, high-quality education. The baseline for our work is the State of Education in New Mexico 2018, a user-friendly report that makes education data accessible, so we can understand the challenges and opportunities facing our schools. Right now, fewer than 3 in 10 New Mexico students can read at grade level and just two in 10 are proficient in math. For students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, the numbers are more dismal. Their peers outperform them nearly 2-to-1 in both of these critical subjects. Of the New Mexico students taking the ACT—a determining factor in secondary-education success—less than 20 percent are meeting college-ready benchmarks in all tested areas of English, math, reading and science reasoning. While 18 percent of all students hit these benchmarks, the rate is just 11 percent for Hispanic students and a devastating 4 percent for Native American students. [pullquote position="right"]We can’t afford to accept this status quo, and neither can the kids we’re entrusted to teach.[/pullquote] Our journey has brought us to a fork in the road, and we can choose to succumb to our history of lagging near the bottom in educational rankings, or we can unite and choose to do more for our children. I choose the latter and ask you to join me. The time is now for New Mexicans to prioritize education policies and practices that ensure our students become the future community, civic and business leaders we need. Imagine a New Mexico led by New Mexicans who choose to use the skills and competencies honed by our education system to create a better future. This doesn’t have to be a fantasy. On the contrary, the NewMexicoKidsCAN launch event in mid-January showed me with inspiring clarity that we have the groundswell of grassroots support that’s necessary to change our kids’ lives. We didn’t just hear from parents and teachers, but from community leaders, chambers of commerce, government staff and the Department of Education. We also heard from legislators themselves, an early indication that our goals are within reach as long as we remain committed and resilient. Our 2018 priorities will lay the foundation for long-term promise in our schools by ensuring the New Mexico Public Education department completes, and shares publicly, their annual updates to the New Mexico Educator Equity Plan; removing barriers to the highest level of licensure for teachers with a proven track record of success; improving transparency through the release of Teacher Prep Report Cards; and holding charter schools to clear, objective and measurable outcomes to earn the right to continue serving students. You can explore our policy goals here. When I began this work, I set out to unite people around a common idea of what’s possible for New Mexico’s kids. Now, it’s time to dig in. And while the cornerstone of our work is telling the truth about what’s not working right now, NewMexicoKidsCAN is grounded the hope that we can, and will, create a system in which students are thriving everywhere in rigorous and relevant schools.
To learn more about NewMexicoKidsCAN, and how you can join our advocacy campaign for equitable schools in the Land of Enchantment, visit NewMexicoKidsCAN.org. From our website you can sign up for email announcements, take action immediately on behalf of our kids, access our user-friendly report on the state of education in New Mexico and connect with other community members who believe in great schools. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I hope you’ll follow our journey.

Amanda Aragon

Amanda Aragon is the Executive Director of NewMexicoKidsCAN. She is motivated by her family and by other New Mexico citizens who do not have the same opportunities from which she benefitted. Starting her public education journey in Albuquerque Public Schools, her family moved to Rio Rancho, where she graduated from one of New Mexico's best high schools. At the same time, many of Amanda’s family members remained in chronically failing schools from elementary through high school. For these reasons, her commitment to improving education outcomes for every New Mexico student is personal and unwavering.

Amanda comes to advocacy after working in both the private and public sectors. She attended the University of Tulsa, where she obtained a degree in international business and Spanish, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college. After college, Amanda worked in the energy sector and eventually as director of stakeholder relations for New Mexico at ConocoPhillips, where she managed the company’s philanthropic investments and sponsorships as well as developed relationships with business and community leaders across the state. In 2015, Amanda was named New Mexico’s top business professional under 30 by Albuquerque Business First. After six successful years in the energy sector, Amanda pursued public service as the director of strategic outreach at the New Mexico Public Education Department. Her experience working for the New Mexico Public Education Department affirmed her passion for education and motivated her to work to engage more stakeholders in working to improve New Mexico’s education system, which led to development and creation of NewMexicoKidsCAN.

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