New Mexico Community Schools Movement
The Community Schools Department of the New Mexico Public Education Department provides resources, funding, and support for eligible public schools that want to implement the state’s community school framework. Community schools are built collaboratively with families in response to their wants and needs. Schools work with the local community to expand available opportunities, services, and resources.
Although community schools have existed since the days of the one-room schoolhouse, only in recent decades have they gained significant attention in New Mexico. As of 2018, more than 60 percent of New Mexico’s 300,000 students identified as Hispanic or Latino (NewMexicoKidsCAN, 2018). The state has long struggled with chronic absenteeism and low academic performance. In 2019 less than 30 percent of fourth graders achieved proficiency benchmarks in math or reading (Nation’s Report Card, n.d.). Education leaders identified a lack of family and student engagement in learning as a root cause of these low achievement marks, noting that parent engagement appeared to break down especially when children reached adolescence. In response, education leaders began experimenting with responsive, localized community schooling models to bridge this gap. Community discussions revealed that parents wished to be involved in their child’s learning, but they did not feel welcome or engaged at their child’s school. As a result, community schools like South Valley High School, one of New Mexico’s first community schools, were born. In the last two decades, the community schools program of the New Mexico Public Education Department has pioneered a scalable model to incubate and empower community schools statewide.
Although every community school is unique, a number of family-school engagement practices unite efforts across New Mexico. Central among these is relationship building. Every community school is supported by an advisory system, whereby one teacher counsels and supports a maximum of 10 children and their families. Each day begins with an advisory check-in. The advisor takes attendance and promptly calls a parent if their student is absent. This accountability not only assures busy parents that the school cares for their child but also builds trust between parents and the school by establishing a direct line of communication. Advisors serve as primary contact points between a family and their school, ensuring the needs of individual families and students do not fall through the cracks. Advisors are trained to build authentic relationships with their students and families. They share their own interests and talents, from music to sports, and encourage students and their families to do the same. Through personalized phone calls and conversations at community events, advisors work to develop deep relationships with each family member and regularly check in to offer diverse supports from homework help to health care contacts.
Other interventions that contribute to the success of the New Mexico community school model include communicating with parents in their native language, conducting home visits, and giving parents responsibility to create their own “parent rooms,” or school sites where parents are encouraged to visit, share, and lead student activities. Parent champions are also key to the community school framework. These families have both deep school knowledge and lived experiences that can help them authentically engage new cohorts of parents at school (K. Sandoval, personal communication, June 23, 2021).
Statewide policy efforts have helped community schools flourish throughout New Mexico. In 2019 the Community Schools Act, originally passed in 1978, was amended to allow for dedicated funding and support for localities seeking to design their own community schools. This amendment was achieved with support from a statewide community schools coalition, including academics and teachers unions, which formally codified a cooperative model to support nascent community schools. In the first year of the grant, $2 million was dedicated toward planning and implementation to systematize community schools not only in big cities but also in small towns throughout the state. Schools that expressed interest in designing community schools received $50,000 in the first year to develop a proposal alongside families. Schools then applied for a three-year renewable implementation grant of $150,000 annually, which included technical assistance and supervision from the state and community schools coalition (K. Sandoval, personal communication, June 23, 2021). One example of a school funded through this scheme is Eagle Nest School in Cimarron, New Mexico, which received support to design a community school centered around local economies and traditions such as fishing and farming (Cimarron Municipal Schools, 2021).
Prior to the approval of the grant in 2019, roughly 90 schools in the state self-identified as community schools. Since formal collaboration began at the state level, that number has increased to over 150 (K. Sandoval, personal communication, June 23, 2021). To further grow this movement, the community schools program is working to create a permanent funding and support mechanism for incubation. This would systematize a school development process, including a best practice rubric, site visits, and eventual community school certification, and guarantee the school dedicate funding to hire community coordinators and other staff dedicated to family-school engagement. This decades long statewide effort continues to expand the community school model, seeking to ensure all families feel included in their child’s educational journey.
Cimarron Municipal Schools. (2021). Eagle Nest Elementary/Middle School. https://www.cimarronschools.org/vnews/display.v/SEC/Eagle+Nest+Elementary-Middle
Community Schools Act, NMSA § 22-32-2 (1978 & rev. 2019). https://www.nmlegis.gov/Sessions/19%20Regular/final/HB0589.pdf
Nation’s Report Card. (n.d.). State profiles: New Mexico. https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/profiles/stateprofile/overview/NM?cti=PgTab_OT&chort=1&sub=MAT&sj=NM&fs=Grade&st=MN&year=2019R3&sg=Gender%3A+Male+vs.+Female&sgv=Difference&ts=Single+Year&sfj=NP
NewMexicoKidsCAN. (2018). State of education in New Mexico 2018. https://nmkidscan.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2017/09/SoE-NM-WEB.pdf