Measuring School Success: La Promisa Early Learning Center

There are a variety of ways to measure successful educational programs. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top insist that high stakes tests are the only way. But federal and state mandates have turned students and teaching into “data machines” and teachers into computer jockeys instead or educators. High stakes testing merely confirms what we already suspect – that minority and children living in poverty do not test as well as those with greater privilege. But using a single test to measure the success of schools doesn’t work. Certain measurements are non-quantifiable. How do you measure the smiles on children’s faces as they hug their teacher or principal? How do you accurately measure the teachers who do not leave work at the end of their day, work late, come early and take work home to complete? How do you measure parents who voluntarily choose a school for their children to attend?

I have just spent five glorious days in La Promisa Early Learning Center. I interviewed the school’s executive director, the school’s administrators, the staff and students.

Many schools have mission statement hung on walls and they are merely pieces of paper. At La Promisa, the mission statement is a living, breathing document.

The mission of La Promesa Early Learning Center ensures that culturally and linguistically diverse students thrive in an academic, family centered, developmental seamless continuum of learning where high expectations, pride, respect and empowerment meet grade level proficiency.”

The school is a dual language school. Students come with a wide diversity of learnings and many enter the school only speaking Spanish. In order to accommodate the students, the school has established four goals of a dual language program:

  1. Students will develop high levels of   proficiency in their first language.
  2. All students will develop high levels of proficiency in a second language.
  3. Academic performance for both groups of students will be at or above grade level.
  4. All students will demonstrate positive cross-cultural attitudes and behaviors.

In order to increase family engagement, the school regularly holds a “Homework Diner” where parents and students come to be fed and help their children with homework.

There are three factors that I believe best measure school success.

  • A visionary, empowering leader. The job of an educational leader is so vast and overpowering that it cannot be done without empowered faculty, parents and students.
  • A supportive school culture. Some schools are toxic to students, student learning, parents and staff. Where teachers and the principal walk around with scowls on their faces.
  • High performing classrooms. Performance needs to be measured where “the rubber hits the road”.

It is unusual to have all three elements present in the same place, at the same time.

The school, which started in 2005 with 170 students, now has 369 students with a cap of 375. Ninety nine percent are Hispanic, although all have been born in the United States. Sixty percent of the parents are from Mexico.

The school operates two campuses. One campus is for pre-K through 1st grade. The second campus is from kindergarten to 8th grade. The pre-school classes have two teachers, one ESL and the other teaching in English. This continues until grade 5 where only one teacher is in each classroom.

Dr. Analee Maestas, the Executive Director, has served from 2008 to the present. She has vast educational experience having been a member of the New Mexico community over 60 years. Gloria Velazquez has been principal at La Promisa for ten years and has been in education for 46 years. Both she and the other principal, Carlos Abetya have previously worked at Albuquerque Public Schools. Carlos retired from APS five years ago and when the opportunity arose to return to education at La Promesa, he seized it. He stated that multi-cultural education is the learning key for these children. And that education needs to relate to the child’s understanding of life. One of the things, which most amazed me about these two professionally trained, life-long educators, was that they are rarely found in their offices. They are in classrooms, talking to students and staff. I even saw Dr. Abetya stopping traffic on Central Avenue so that kindergarten children could board a bus for a school trip.

It is obvious to see that the staff loves students and teaching. Bianca Olona-Elwell, currently serves as the school’s Social Worker. She started at the school six years ago as an Educational Assistant (EA). In addition she runs the community outreach and a Homework Diner program. The Homework Diner program invites parents and students to come to diner where students are helped by parents and staff to do homework. The Diner is supported by Lujan Motorcycles. The community outreach has gotten also gotten Target Superstores to provide tutors. One teacher, Mrs. Eckles stated, “These children are bright and have enormous potential.”

One principal, Carlos Abetya stated, “The children are taken into to school young to grow and then acculturate to have a positive learning culture.’

The standards imposed by the Public Education Department do not provide enough latitude or flexibility to accommodate the various backgrounds of students, the family’s conditions, the economic conditions under which the children live, the distance from the school, the difficulty of reaching the school or any other unique condition children may face. All children are judged equally and expected to reach the same academic level of attainment. Rich or poor, English speaking or not; one size fits all. Children are being penalized for conditions they were born in and over which they have little control. Education uses a uniform curricula with identical textbooks to prepare all kids for the same tests at the end of the year. But as any parent can tell you, children are different from one another and what works for one child will not work for all children.

As one teacher explained to me, “we treat everyone as family and family doesn’t allow family to fail.” What better explanation to explain the success of La Promesa Early Learning Center?