By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
LAS CRUCES – The incoming president of the National Education Association-New Mexico is a long-time Las Cruces classroom teacher and administrator who is committed to a statewide educational reset.
Mary Parr-Sanchez taught at Picacho Middle School 1991-2015 and has worked for the past four years as a district training specialist in the fight against truancy and as an advocate for community schools in Las Cruces. After six years as NEA-NM vice president, she will move to Santa Fe to begin a three-year term as president July 15.
A long-time NEA advocate, Parr-Sanchez said her leadership of one of the state’s largest teacher’s unions will be about compliance with the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, whose 2018 settlement mandates that public education return its emphasis to students.
Nearly 30 years ago, “We left the kids to focus on teacher evaluations, (which) started driving the system,” she said. Student testing also began “gobbling up way too much of our instruction time” and didn’t produce productive results.
As a result, New Mexico has dropped to the bottom of the educational rankings among states, Parr-Sanchez said. “The results are in: We’re dead last,” she said. “We could have grown in a different direction. Why didn’t we? We went in the exact wrong direction, (trying) to make everything the same. That’s not where the richness of this state lies.”
“It’s time for a reset,” Parr-Sanchez said. “We’re definitely on the right path. We just have such a huge hill to climb.”
Yazzie is “a game changer,” Parr-Sanchez said, because part of the state’s compliance with the lawsuit is increased funding for public education. The New Mexico Legislature has already responded, appropriating nearly 500 million new dollars earlier this year for the New Mexico Public Education Department.
Part of the reset is also taking Las Cruces’ ground-breaking community schools’ model statewide.
“It’s about collective impact,” Parr-Sanchez said. “How do we work better together to serve kids?”
Part of the answer is changing the way schools look at families, she said, and beginning “to work with them as true and equal partners,” inviting parents to come into schools “and really shape what is offered.”
In a joint powers agreement between Las Cruces Public Schools and the City of Las Cruces, Lynn Middle School has become the city’s first community school and has developed “fabulous community partnerships,” Parr-Sanchez said, with not only the city but also New Mexico State University, Families and Youth, Inc. and Boys and Girls Club of Las Cruces, among others.
Three more community schools will come online in Las Cruces in the 2019-20 school year, she said, growing the model successfully established at Lynn. “I think the sky is the limit (for) grassroots, community-grown schools,” Parr-Sanchez said. “Why wouldn’t you want a school which is stakeholder driven?”
“If we really do listen to the stakeholders, we can have great things happen,” she said. “If you listen to the people, you have the best chance at moving kids forward.”
Community schools, she said, provide “services to kids and families so they can develop into the people they are destined to be,” Parr-Sanchez said. “Instead of students having to conform, schools should adapt to grow the talents of that student.”
It’s time to stop “the drumbeat of failure” that has surrounded schools, she said, and begin “looking for assets, not deficits.”
“I really want to bring NEA-NM into the future,” Parr-Sanchez said, and help determine how it can “be on the right side of democracy, social justice and opportunities for kids. I believe in New Mexico. I know the magic that’s here.”
NEA-NM was founded as the Territorial Education Association in 1886, more than a quarter-century before New Mexico became a state. Today, it has 8,000 members in about 90 local chapters, of which Las Cruces is the largest, Parr-Sanchez said.
Contact Parr-Sanchez at 575-527-6086 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit nea-nm.org.
Mike Cook may be contacted at email@example.com.