Imagine being asked to ride a bike without ever learning to walk, make mole from scratch without ever rolling out a tortilla, or being given a hand tool to plow an entire field. When you are expected to do something without any previous experience or the right set of tools is downright challenging.
This was the reality of many classrooms in Las Cruces Public Schools (LCPS) in New Mexico, about 45 miles from the Mexican border, where post-pandemic only 7% of the students in grades K-5 had the foundational skills and background knowledge necessary to learn and acquire their new grade-level material. Educators were expected to teach a particular content at a specific level when only 1–2 of their students had the academic abilities to learn at that level.
New Role, New Goal
Luckily for LCPS, the creation of a new academic administrator position has granted one educator her dream job and has given her the ability to support those students and teachers. Lisa Hufstedler is the Associate Director of Teaching and Learning K-12 Math for LCPS, and she has risen to the challenge to address, solve and execute a plan for her district’s struggles.
Hufstedler began her educational career in 2005, and is a proud NMSU Aggie Alumni; earning degrees in Secondary Education, Mathematics, and a Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics. Hufstedler’s favorite part of the job is that “light-bulb” moment. Whether it be with students, teachers, or administrators, that “aha” is the best feeling in the world. Hufstedler said, “When I first started teaching, I thought, ‘I want to be in charge of math at the district level,’ and then this position came open, and now I support K–12 Mathematics; my dream job.”
Hufstedler is taking that same goal-setting mindset and radiating it out to administrators, teachers, and students of LCPS. She said, “If you have a strong math goal and you know what the end is, then it’s a lot easier to make all of the other pieces work.”
Restructuring Establishes Content Experts
Deputy Superintendent Dr. Wendi Miller-Tomlinson spearheaded the successful administrative restructuring of LCPS that created the position of Hufstedler and has allowed other individuals to become true experts in their content fields. “Having one person overseeing K–12 allowed us to align. When we didn’t have that overarching content person, elementary and secondary often worked in silos,” explained Hufstedler.
Now there is a cohesive team approach to each subject area. For example, Hufstedler said, “We have five math content specialists for elementary and three for secondary. Since it’s really hard for people to be experts in everything, having that shift to the content has given us better content-specific support with true experts at that level who support teachers and administrators, anywhere from district-level professional development all the way down to one-on-one teacher coaching.”
Hufstedler added, “This is the biggest piece to our success because all the rest of it falls in place if you have support at all levels, and consistency in that alignment.”
Step 1: Building a Math Culture
“In my first year in this role, my focus was bringing all of the Math Content Specialists up to speed and getting everybody on the same page,” explained Hufstedler. “We really focused on building up their knowledge so that they could then in turn go to support teachers. Then the following year, we launched an initiative that was about pushing out our framework and building a math positive culture. I was able to give PD to all of the administrators in the district about how to shift the culture in math and stop saying, ‘People are or aren’t math people, or I can’t do math.’ We wanted to change that vernacular.”
After this step, Hufstedler was determined to meet the immediate need of providing an individualized entry point for students to access their math curriculum based on their baseline assessment. In the case of many of LCPS students, the typical stairs to grade-level learning were too vast or too steep to climb. Therefore, they needed an elevator.
And though there are many pieces to making an elevator move, with Hufstedler at the lead, the doors for LCPS students soon began opening to new levels.
The Prerequisite Elevator
Through Hufstedler’s guidance and with the success of her talented team of math specialists, LCPS’ teachers have been able to use Prerequisite reports to drive their instruction and lift those students up to access grade-level content in real-time. “I would say that across the board, that focus is why we had the growth because if you’re never getting to grade-level content, kids are not going to grow the way they should. The Prerequisite report really helps to backfill those skills,” Hufstedler stated.
Those Prerequisite reports are a part of Hufstedler’s K-5 math implementation of Ready Classroom Mathematics developed by Curriculum Associates. “The Prerequisite report identifies the content kids need just in time in order to access grade-level content, which fills in gaps without doing remediation all the time,” explained Hufstedler.
The Curriculum Associates system includes print materials and the Online Instructional program entitled i-Ready, along with high-quality professional learning opportunities to support teachers in how to effectively use the instructional materials, such as the Prerequisite reports. These were especially resourceful for Hufstedler’s team of math specialists who utilized the offerings and took their newfound knowledge to the teachers, who in turn were able to effectively reach all their students with grade-level lessons.
With this leadership and meaningful instruction, that 7% group grew to 36% of K-5 students ready to learn on grade level in just one year. “I was genuinely shocked,” admitted Hufstedler. “I’m not sure that we’ve ever had that level of growth in the district; it’s never been that significant. I’m really proud of my team, the teachers, and the students for really digging in and making that happen.”