Danielle Gurnea said she doesn’t mind the additional hours teaching middle school students in Las Cruces, and if state lawmakers approve additional funds for her public school district to expand extended learning or professional development, she just wants a say in the matter.
“I enjoy doing programs with my school, but I also appreciate when it’s a choice. Do I want to go into professional development to improve myself? Or do I want to dedicate more time to this project or to that certain group of students,” she said at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe on Monday.
State lawmakers approved funding in 2019 for local school districts to start extended learning programs, and in 2021, Las Cruces Public Schools opted into extended learning which allowed officials there to add 10 days to the school year, meaning teachers like Gurnea are working more.
“With the extended time, that means you need extended planning time, which isn’t always there,” she said. “I do most of my planning and grading on my own time. I don’t have enough time at school.”
Gurnea and other educators were in Santa Fe to lobby legislators who intend to give all local districts enough money to boost instructional hours. Teachers want to ensure the extended hours do not lead to quality-of-life issues where overworked educators are struggling to meet student needs in the classroom.
Educators do get paid for the additional hours, including summer programs they design.
Still, teachers say they’ve lost planning time and want lawmakers to consider that along with any legislation that will keep them in the classroom longer.
”Districts that offer significant planning time should be rewarded with increased funding,” said Denise Sheehan, a union representative from Las Cruces with the state chapter of the National Education Association. “Educators simply cannot do better if we do not have the time to plan and prepare for rigorous lessons for our students.”
Proposals were presented Monday to New Mexico lawmakers, who will determine exactly how much money and time school districts will receive to meet the proposed minimum requirement for extended learning and for professional development.
The Senate Education Committee heard plans from three different sources that are part of state government: the Public Education Department, the Legislative Finance Committee and the Legislative Education Study Committee.
All three seek to fund school districts with money to set a required minimum for students and teachers to have 1,140 hours of instruction each school year, which depending on the calendar set by the school district, could lead to up to 190 school days.
Right now, 23 of the 89 New Mexico school districts are sending students and teachers to classrooms under the proposed instruction hour requirements through their extended-learning programs, according to legislative analysts.
Schools not doing extended learning that offer a five-day week currently operate at or below 180 days, while schools that have four-day school weeks average 155 days.
Some details from the LFC and PED plans were made available to lawmakers on Monday. However, only one bill on this matter had been filed as of Monday by Rep. Joy Garratt (D-Bernalillo) and Rep. Andrés Romero (D-Bernalillo).
House Bill 130 has support from the Legislative Education Study Committee, and according to analysis by the committee, the $302 million proposal would fund most school districts required to meet the 1,140 hours of minimum instruction to the school year if the plan is passed. It also funds districts to add 60 hours of professional development for teachers.
The LFC proposal costs the most. It’s a $391 million plan that will fund almost half of the school districts in New Mexico to meet the new hour minimums, and it does not require more teacher professional development.
The Public Education Department’s proposal comes in at $311 million. PED wants to see funding for all school districts to apply the new hours, and on top of 1,140 minimum additional hours, it requires 80 hours of professional development.
Sen. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) is a member of the Legislative Education Study Committee and said she wants to ensure whatever choice is made, the decision about how to apply these new school hours stays with local districts, because they know their communities’ needs.
“Additional time in the classroom creates a better outcome for students because we lost so much time during the pandemic, and I don’t disagree with that,” Kernan said. “I do agree with the idea that just adding more hours — unless it’s quality time spent in the classroom — really doesn’t benefit the student that much.”
This debate is also being watched by future educators the state is desperately trying to recruit and retain. Danielle Hamilton is a senior at New Mexico State University and hopes to teach to a first or second-grade class. She’s originally from Colorado but after a semester teaching elementary school students in Las Cruces, she is considering staying in the state.
According to legislative analysts, the 184 days Las Cruces Public Schools had last year is above the 160 classroom days teachers in Colorado average annually and more than what 34 school districts in New Mexico required last year.
She has some requirements while looking for a school to start her career.
“I think ultimately, just a school that feels like a community — not only with the teachers in the school, but also the families and the students — is really important,” she said. “And also having an administration that is supportive.”
Hamilton said teacher pay is an incentive but not the only thing she cares about. She sees the need for students to spend more time in the classroom and said she would be happy with a district that meets the new minimum hours. There is also a work-life balance she wants to prioritize because it could impact her teaching methods or length of career in the classroom.
“Whether that’s hanging out with family and friends or doing things that you enjoy in your free time,” she said, “it’s good to have the time to do that, rather than just working, working, working.”
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