APS board: Six seek position serving East Mtns

Six candidates are seeking a seat on the board of directors of Albuquerque Public Schools, in a district that includes the East Mountain area, along with part of the city.

The six have varied backgrounds, and each filled out a questionnaire for the school district outlining their positions and qualifications. The term is four years long.

School board elections are taking place around the state Feb. 7.

Paul Sievert

Paul Sievert is described himself as a retired teacher and businessman, and a part-time substitute teacher for APS in a questionnaire for candidates. He said he has lived in the school district for 25 years.

Asked why he wants to be on the school board, Sievert responded, “The New Mexico evaluation system, though flawed, shows that we are not providing the quality of education our students deserve. We must and can do better. All things that Albuquerque Public School employees do must be directed at improving student performance. All policies, all funding, all efforts need to be focused on student improvement. As a board member, I will work diligently with other board members to allocate funding, set policy and work with the Superintendent to concentrate all efforts on student performance.”

Asked about his interest in education, Sievert wrote, “Education is a driving force in our community. Our children’s success, our economy and our public safety are all a reflection of our school system. Our city and our state must first and foremost improve the performance of our education system.”

Asked how he would support the mission and vision of the district, he said, “It is time to reassess and redefine the priorities and direction of APS. The mission and vision would then become obvious.”

Asked how he would work with the superintendent, Sievert replied, “As a new member of the board, I will research alternative approaches, programs and solutions. I will explore and convey issues, concerns and suggestions from my constituents and make recommendations. I will collaborate and build consensus with other board members and our superintendent.”

The questionnaire asked what his past and current involvement with APS is. Sievert said he worked for the district for 13 years, retiring in 2014. “My teaching experience includes mentoring and educating our youth in traditional classroom, charter school and alternative delivery settings.” He now works as a substitute teacher in the district.

Asked what the relationship between the board of education and superintendent should be, Sievert emphasized collaboration and conflict resolution.

Asked what qualities and skills he would bring to the school board, Sievert answered, “As a retired businessman and retired APS teacher, I understand the business side and the delivery side of education. This unique blending of skills gives me a strong outlook on what is needed to successfully deliver education to our students. I am also a third-generation New Mexican, APS and UNM graduate which gives me a distinct and well-rounded perspective to the unique issues facing our schools and our community.”

Asked what volunteer activities he is involved in, Sievert included work as a volunteer in the classroom for his children and grandchildren and said he is a “past and present supporter of the NM Appleseed Foundation and the Albuquerque Mayoral Benefit Gala.”

Sievert said all APS business should be conducted “in an open meeting” and that he would work with media and the board’s constituents transparently. He added, “I will keep regular, open office hours for phone calls and email responses to all constituents of APS.”

Asked what he sees as opportunities and challenges for the district, Sievert said, “The largest challenges for APS are student performance, limited funds and teacher retention. Putting our focus on improving these three issues will create the greatest returns for our school system.”

Early learning is affected by many social issues, Sievert said. “APS does not have the funding and should not have the mission to address them all.” On building career and college readiness, he said, “The education that students and parents want and need must be provided.” He would focus on attracting and retaining experienced teachers.

On “developing the whole child,” Sievert said, “All students should be safe, engaged, challenged and supported these issues are always a major concern of teachers and all APS employees.”

Paula Maes

Paula Maes described herself as President and CEO of the New Mexico Broadcasters Association. She previously served on the board of APS for 12 years and currently has no affiliations with the school district, according to her questionnaire.

Maes combined her answers on why she wants to be on the school board and what her interest in education is, responding:

“I am running to improve the public perception of APS, to improve student outcome, and lastly to get true community engagement. I want to serve on the APS board to be part of ensuring that the 84,000 students in the APS district get quality education and have the necessary tools to succeed in life.” She said the two duties of the board are hiring a competent superintendent and approving a budget.

Maes continued, “This duty is hard in 2017, with the state’s funding being so limited; the board will need to be even more diligent to make sure class education is not compromised and student learning continues. No board member works a lone on the above duties and issues, the work must be worked in cooperating with teachers, administration, parents and students. The board can’t operate in a vacuum. With the NM budget crisis our APS school board will have tough choices to make over and I will wake up every day fighting for more funding for APS from the State, and make sure that money goes to our teachers and to benefit our students.”

Asked how she would work with the superintendent, Maes answered, “The board hires a superintendent and the board should let the superintendent lead. The board should not micro manage.”

Maes said she has been involved with APS for 30 years since her oldest son was in school, and she served on parent-teacher organizations.

Asked what qualities and skills she would bring to the board, she answered, “The skills I bring to the board are the ability to compromise and collaborate with others, as well having prior knowledge and experience serving on the board previously. This is a 7 person body that needs to work together and agree to disagree. The board members need to set aside their personal agenda and act on what is best for the entire district, this is goal. It is a goal that will bring much needed change to APS for the good of all who are involved.”

Her volunteer activities include working in her sons’ schools, UNM Children’s Hospital, Explora, and the UNM Journalism Advisory Committee.

Maes said her plan to work with constituents is, “I have an open door policy. Constituents can contact me by phone, email, and social media at any time.”

Asked what the opportunities and challenges to the district are, Maes replied, “The opportunities of APS are its teachers, its parents and its community being involved and working together throughout the entire year. It’s challenges are its public perception, student outcome and real community engagement.”

Asked how she would work toward early learning, college and career readiness and developing the whole child, Maes said, “The best way for the district to achieve these goals are to gain the trust and respect of the public. The public will support these goals in which they believe, trust and respect the district. APS needs the entire community to engage in its students and their future not only now, but in years ahead. If the community totally engages with the board of education, the goals will be met. Money is also important and that lies in the hands of the legislature. The board must also act in the best interest of of its students and the district as a whole.”

Melissa Finch

Melissa Finch describes her job as compliance inspector for Isleta Pueblo, and said she has lived in the school district for 16 years in her questionnaire. She said she has never held public office and has no affiliation with the school district.

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Asked why she wants to be on the school board, Finch responded, “I believe in the importance of quality public education. I have 3 children enrolled in APS. … I have a vested interest in seeing APS strive to be the best. I believe every child should have the best opportunity to achieve a quality education in a safe and nurturing environment.”

Asked about her interest in education, she said, “Education is important. Every child should receive a quality education regardless of their background, race or socioeconomic status. As a parent, I see the effects of some of these circumstances. I see the hard work many students and parents invest in their future. I have had the privileged of meeting and working with many skilled teachers. I see how hard they work to provide a quality education.”

Finch said she would support the mission of the school district by working with the superintendent and staff; creating partnerships with families and the community; “ensure student success”; and “hold ourselves accountable to fulfil our obligation to students, teachers, staff and community.”

Asked how she would work with the superintendent, Finch said, “The superintendent is the person the school board has entrusted to lead the school district. As board members, it is our duty to do our due diligence to make sure we have the right person in the position. Currently, we have Ms. Reedy and I believe she has the best interest of students and teachers in mind. I would like to keep an open dialogue and trust that she will make informed decisions and be transparent with the school board.”

She said the relationship between the school board and superintendent should be “a respected collaboration.”

Her volunteer activities include basketball, baseball, football and volleyball for the past five years, she said, adding that she has worked as “fundraising coordinator and communication liaison for volleyball” and dance prop assistant.

Asked how she would work with constituents, Finch answered, “Encourage students to know they have an active part in the School District regardless of current, former or no students at all. Their tax dollars benefit the district and allowing open meetings to share their interest will represent our good faith in being transparent.”

Asked what Finch sees as the opportunities and challenges of the school district, she said, “APS can be the flagship district in the state by utililizing the building on the strengths and skills of its diverse population in the district. Challenges to the district is the budget, teacher retention and recruitment, excessive testing and test-base accountability measures.”

Asked how to support early learning, Finch said, “Provide parents with resources to become more involved in their children’s education. Encourage active participation. Example, eliminate or reduce the fee for background checks to make it easier for parents to get involved.”

To promote college and career readiness, “Provide classes/programs so students may acquire skills to help them in their career choices. Career options – i.e. arts, technology, academic, business, skilled crafts. Involve alumni to return as speakers, collaborate with colleges, universities and businesses.”

She continued, “Developing the Whole Child will be accomplished by ensuring that the child has a good foundation as an Early Learner and builds on that foundation through elementary and secondary levels. By providing the district with resources to remove barriers to create a safe environment, removing barriers to learning helping them explore and develop their talents to provide a better community.”

C. Douglas Brown

C. Douglas Brown says he has lived in the school district for 40 years, according to his questionnaire, and said he is a senior engineer in cyber security for Sandia National Laboratories. He is planning to retire in March. Brown does not hold public office and is not affiliated with APS, he said.

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Asked why he wants to be on the school board, he answered, “Because I am concerned about the situation in APS, with low graduation rates and with many graduates requiring remedial courses in college. This affects our entire community and state. It makes it difficult for students to get good jobs, and it affects employers who are having trouble finding qualified employees. I am retiring in March and want to give back to the community by serving on the APS Board now that I will have the time to do so.”

Asked about his interest in education, Brown said he has a family history. “My mother taught public elementary school. My wife taught pre-school and PE at a private school. My daughter is currently working as a mid-school band director at a Title I school in Colorado Springs. My grandchildren attend school out of state. I want to improve our educational system because it has such an impact on our society.”

Brown said he “wholeheartedly” supports the mission of the district, and would support it by implementing a teacher evaluation process that is not based primarily on student test scores and reduce dependence on computer-based standardized tests; putting more money in the classroom; emphasizing the basics of reading, writing and math, “not political correctness”; restoring independent internal auditing.

Asked how he would work with the superintendent, Brown said, “It is imperative that there be a good working relationship between the Board and the Superintendent in order to have a successful outcome in educating our students. The Board sets policy and approves the budget, whereas the Superintendent implements policy and provides information and recommendations to the Board.”

Asked what qualities and skills he would bring to the job, Brown said, “I am a Senior Engineer at Sandia Labs serving as the Engineering Manager for a major DOE computer network. I oversee the work of about 30 engineers across the couuntry and direct the work of about 10 engineers at Sandia. I manage an annual budget of $2-4 million. Some of the skills I have learned in my 40 years at Sandia are leadership, communication (speaking and writing), and financial management. I served as a line manager for seven years from 1993-2000. During the rest of my career, I have operated without formal authority and have managed to be very successful using persuasion and influence to accomplish shared objectives. I have served on the boards of a couple of organizations and am accustomed to working collaboratively in a group setting. I believe these will be valuable skills for serving on the Board of Education.”

Brown’s volunteer activities include acting as Sunday School Superintendent for two churches, along with being a Sunday School teacher; for the past 10 years that has been with adult classes. “This experience on a small scale gives me an inkling of the massive issues facing an educational system as large as APS.”

Asked how he would work with constituents, Brown responded, “I am not sure who you are including in the term ‘constituents’, but I plan to take advantage of Board meetings, community forums, and other venues to receive input from parents, teachers, administration, and concerned citizens.”

Brown said APS can support early learning with parenting classes “to help them develop parenting skills long before their children reach Kindergarten, and even before birth. This does not all have to be done by APS.”

On college and career readiness, Brown said, “I think we need greater variety in our curriculum, especially in high school. Some students have a need to attend college and an interest in doing so. … The one-size-fits-all approach of Common Core and the associated PARCC tests does not lend itself to the variety that is needed in the curriculum. … If the students see their classes as relevant to success in life and as more interesting to them, they will be less likely to drop out.”

Abbas Ali Akhil

Abbas Ali Akhil has lived in the school district for 28 years and is a retired engineer who is self-employed as an energy consultant. He has no affiliations with APS, his questionnaire says.

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Asked why he wants to be on the school board, Akhil responded, “I regard public service very highly and given the rhetoric and results of this Presidential campaign, my choice was clear: defend and strengthen the educational foundation of our society. This mission is even more urgent at this time because our school system – APS – is comprised of multi-ethnic student populations whose education is at greater risk under the unpredictable policies of the next administration. There are clear imminent threats from narrow self interest groups that have agendas that are contrary to our Constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms. These groups will exert their newfound influence to transform our educational institutions to reflect their interests while denying the needs of the many.”

Asked what his interest in education is, Akhil said, “Education is the bedrock of any democracy and I firmly believe that primary and secondary education should be available to all for the democratic system to thrive. And the design and implementation of such an education framework must not be influenced by sectarian agendas.”

Akhil said he supports the mission of the school district, adding, “However, I also believe that these broader goals should be re-evaluated by the Board to better reflect our current social and economic environment. I will work as a consensus-building Member of the Board to accomplish this.”

He said the school board should “respect and give credence” to the professional judgement of the superintendent, adding, “The Board/Superintendent relationship succeeds if it is trustful and the two work as a team. Differences must be resolved with mutual respect and professionalism, but, always with uncompromised confidentiality by both parties and with the best interests of students and teachers as the core considerations.”

Asked what qualities and skills he would bring to the board, Akhil named “analytical and planning skills” learned as a senior engineer; team- and consensus-building skills; “a technology-based perspective” to education; and a “greater sensitivity” to the needs of minority students.

Volunteer activities include work as treasurer of the NM Faith Coalition for Immigration Justice, serving as president of the Islamic Center of New Mexico and acting as a judge at the NM Regional Science Fairs.

To work with constituents, Akhil said he would work with parents and school principals in his district, “to address and resolve them as best as possible at the Board level,” adding, “Budget cuts are always of great concern to parents and staff and these need to be communicated to the constituents with sensitive messaging in collaboration with the Superintendent.”

Asked about the opportunities and challenges of the school district, Akhil said, “The presence of of dedicated staff within the APS system is our greatest asset. But, as budget cuts loom, the challenge will be retaining them and nurturing their enthusiasm. The retention and re-integration of the ‘drop-out’ students within the APS system and providing them with the skills to succeed in a society in which they have lost hope.”

Asked how he would work with the current board, Akhil replied, “As a District 6 Board Member, I will be representing 23 schools and student population of 15,000. This requires balancing the needs of the district within the larger APS network. I will build trust and consensus based on facts and operational feedback from the superintendent.”

Elizabeth Armijo

Elizabeth Armijo has lived in the school district for 2.5 years and is a small business owner in marketing and communications, according to her questionnaire. She does not hold public office and has no affiliations with the school district, she said.

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Asked why she wants to be on the school board, Armijo said, “I’m passionate about education and the life-long opportunities a good public education can provide – especially for our children. I believe that now, more than ever, citizens should actively participate and engage in ways to make our communities stronger. As a parent of an APS student, I will be a voice for children, families, and educators. I have a sense of fairness and understand that there are complex issues that affect our students. I know that learning in the classroom needs to be innovative, relevant and connect with the diverse learning styles of our children and that it’s incredibly important that educators have a voice in their classrooms. I am interested in how our schools can better engage families and the community.”

Asked about her interest in education, Armijo said, “I believe we all have a vested interest in public education since education is related to our economy, growth, poverty and crime. We should all work to promote strategies for learning and engagement and be part of the equation.”

Armijo said she would support the school district’s mission this way: “I will serve with integrity to support APS’ mission and vision which values all students and works towards improving student outcomes.”

She has been an active parent and served with parent-teacher organizations, along with drama, sports and other school events, she said.

Asked about the relationship between the board and superintendent, Armijo responded, “The relationship should be positive and have ongoing, frequent communication. The superintendent and board should work on a shared vision that consist of goals and strategies that support the Master Academic Plan.”

Asked about the qualities and skills she would bring to the position, Armijo said she has been a community advocate. “I have worked extensively with diverse communities, collaborating with populations who experience disparities and injustices,” adding, “My career and life passion have been rooted in promoting civil rights, racial justice, and women’s empowerment. I am experienced and accomplished in relationship management, including stewardship, cultivation and facilitation work with boards, councils, staff, volunteers and donors.”

Asked about the opportunities and challenges of the school district, Armijo said, “APS does an especially good job with it’s community wrap-around schools – I’d like to see APS expand on that model. The biggest challenge to APS has to do with funding – for our schools and our front-line educators. We need to retain our best teachers and make sure they feel valued.”
Asked about how to support early learning, Armijo said APS “should actively support state legislative efforts to expand quality early childhood education funding and home visitation programs.”

On college and career readiness, she said she would focus on two areas, developing schools to retain students and “partnerships that extend student learning beyond the classroom” like internships and on-the-job training.