November 2015

New Mexico Center for School Leadership: Local Wisdom for Local Schools

Tony Monfiletto


Three years ago The Center for School Leadership (CSL) established a vision to provide the best education for students who need it most. Troubling graduation rates, disengagement and stark workforce-development challenges indicated a great need in our community for highly impactful, relevant schools that prepare our youth for their future. In recent years the New Mexico CSL has partnered with school, community and business leaders to identify solutions to some of our state’s most pressing challenges.

The Center’s work is grounded in two core philosophies: local wisdom for local schools (the understanding that local communities are assets in designing schools that support students to succeed in a fast-changing world) and a three-pillar model of learning by doing, community engagement and student support to guide student success. This unique approach, combining a three-pillar model with local wisdom, is shaping the education landscape for impactful, engaging learning for every student.

I have been blown away by the local wisdom of the businesspeople, community members and parent leaders I have met as we work to redesign effective, engaging public schools across Albuquerque. Albuquerque is built around relationships, and that is particularly true of the South Valley. The commitment to building a next generation of leaders in Albuquerque has been staggering.

We will soon have two Leadership High Schools in the South Valley, bringing our network of Leadership High Schools up to four. Siembra Leadership High School (an entrepreneurship-focused school) will begin operating in August 2016, and Health Leadership High School will move from the Southeast Heights to the South Valley Health Commons in August 2018. When they are fully enrolled, Siembra and Health Leadership will serve nearly 900 students, and they will be designed from the local wisdom of the people who live and work in the community.

When we were contemplating Health Leadership High School, we could have located it anywhere in Albuquerque. We went through a series of design summits with health professionals, and I saw a special kind of synergy happening that I saw in my parents, who were teachers at Ernie Pyle: The experts believed in young people and the power of the South Valley community. They pushed for a South Valley location, and I had a sense that these future partners would help us create a school that would be like nothing else in the country. It was a school that would do more than prepare students for college or a career. It would also be a catalyst and an engine for improved health in a specific community. They helped us imagine a generation of young people with assets that could be cultivated as part of a systemic change that could make the South Valley a model for healthy living.

I recently attended a “pitch session” at Health Leadership High School. There were 30 people from health related organizations that came to suggest community-based projects to teachers. Healthy food sources, early-childhood development, mental health, effects of pain medication and other ideas were brought to the faculty by their partners. It was a cross-section of timely topics and local wisdom that has a direct effect on the well-being of the South Valley. More importantly, the experts who “pitched” projects also committed to deploying their local wisdom to support teachers as they work with students as the projects unfold over the school year. I left the meeting and thought, “It’s gotta be a South Valley thing.” Where else would so many people, with so many other things to do, be so generous with their time and expertise?


Tony Monfiletto is the director of the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. Over the past 20 years, he has been actively involved in creating a policy climate that welcomes innovative solutions to respond to our public schools’ biggest challenges.


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