In the summer of 2018, the late Judge Sarah Singleton issued a landmark education decision and order in the consolidated lawsuit of Martinez/Yazzie v. The State of New Mexico. The overarching question addressed by the judge was whether the New Mexico public education system was meeting its constitutional obligation of providing an adequate and sufficient education for at-risk students. In her decision and order, Judge Singleton sided with the two plaintiffs by ordering the state legislative and executive branch to “create a funding system that will meet the constitutional requirements.” The group of students that were specifically outlined by the two plaintiffs in this consolidated lawsuit included: socioeconomically disadvantaged children, English learners, Native American students, and children with disabilities.
For Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS), this landmark education case further propelled the efforts that had been initiated prior to the state mandating a total restructuring of how the student groups outlined in this case were being educated. For example, the Division of Equity, Innovation, and Social Justice was established in 2017 and includes the following departments: Special Education, Bilingual Education, Translation & Interpretation and Community Outreach, Early Childhood Education, Federal Programs, Behavioral Health, and Alternative Education Programs. All of these departments are focused on aligning efforts to provide an equitable student-centered learning environment that meets the needs of students served by these programs. This is achieved in a variety of ways, including examining funding structures, program access, and streamlining systems. The Division of Equity, Innovation, and Social Justice strives to provide unity and collaboration while engaging in this complex and essential work.
Although there is much to be done, LCPS recognizes that in order to create a system that provides educational equity for all students, we must continually seek innovative ways to engage our community in our public-school system.
In the Fall of 2019, LCPS called on our community to be part of the district Equity Council, whose focus is to review and make recommendations on programs, policies and funding that will lead to more equity and inclusion for students and families of LCPS. The response from our Las Cruces community was overwhelming – we had over 200 community members apply to be part of this important group. We had to establish a fair and transparent process to select only 15 members to be part of this council, in alignment with the guidelines from the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED). We also made the decision to partner with a respected and experienced local community organizer, Sarah Silva, to facilitate this working group to more effectively seek the input and recommendations from equity council members.
The LCPS Equity Council is composed of 15 diverse members who represent the multiple student sub-groups outlined in the Martinez/Yazzie case. All members are fully committed to this work and strongly believe that ALL students in LCPS deserve a world class education. Moving forward, the LCPS Equity Council will be instrumental in implementing the strategies outlined by the NMPED that address the Martinez/Yazzie case. Specifically, the Equity Council will engage in making recommendations on how LCPS implements a culturally and linguistically responsive framework to prepare students for college, career, and life by supporting their identity and holistic development, including social, emotional, and physical wellness, in addition to rigorous academic standards. The Equity Council will also be seeking ways to engage more community stakeholders in this process as they recognize the importance of including multiple voices in our school community.
Although the current pandemic has interrupted the work of this council, LCPS remains committed to ensuring that this council is an integral part of how we ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education in a virtual environment. With the support of the LCPS Board of Education, Superintendent Dr. Karen Trujillo, district leadership, staff and students, LCPS will continue to lead the way in achieving educational equity in every school.
-Dr. Roberto Lozano is the Associate Superintendent of Equity, Innovation, and Social Justice at Las Cruces Public Schools