The Math and Science Academy: supporting teacher professional development for over 20 years

More than 900 teachers and school leaders across Northern New Mexico have benefited from the Laboratory program

September 19, 2022

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Lorenzo Gonzales (standing) of the Laboratory's MSA working with teachers at a professional development event.

“El trabajo te dice que hacer” (“the work tells you what to do”) is the working motto of the Los Alamos National Laboratory Northern New Mexico Math and Science Academy (MSA), which has been supporting the science and mathematics professional development of the region’s elementary and middle school teachers since 2000.

For the last four years, MSA has been working with Pojoaque Valley School District’s fourth to eighth grade mathematics teachers as part of the five-year Regional Partnership School collaboration between Pojoaque Valley School District, New Mexico Highlands School of Education, and the Laboratory. 

MSA is also assisting the Pojoaque Valley School District in developing a mathematics intervention program and after-school program for fourth and fifth grade students, as well as a summer math camp and after-school program for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students. These programs not only support students but also provide opportunities for teachers to improve their craft and for the schools to develop sustainable systems for improvement.

A record of success

Since its inception MSA has provided professional development for over 900 teachers and school leaders within the seven-county Northern New Mexico region, including eight public school districts and the seven Northern Pueblos Day Schools under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Education.

Some of MSA’s other achievements include:

  • Assisting in the creation of the Northern New Mexico College Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education program (the MSA staff also served as the program’s first adjunct instructors) 
  • Partnering with New Mexico State University College of Education’s School of Teacher Preparation, the University of New Mexico College of Education, and New Mexico Highlands University School of Education to offer master degree opportunities to over 70 K-8 northern New Mexico teachers; 
  • Leading the way to a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership opportunity for a cohort of seven northern New Mexico education leaders.

According to Lorenzo Gonzales, who has been with MSA since 2003, the success of MSA lies in both its leadership and staff. “The positivity, stability, and support of all our MSA managers contribute to the effectiveness of the MSA effort,” he says.  “In the 22 years of our existence, we have only had four directors and all have been strong leaders dedicated to team building, education, learning, and completing projects.” 

Between them, the MSA staff of four has over 100 years of experience in education at the state, national, and international levels; a low turnover rate among the staff allows for creativity, collaboration, and sustainability.

Math Teacher Leader Network

Another MSA program to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics is facilitating collaboration between teachers and principals in schools and between schools. The Math Teacher Leader Network (MTLN) has included up to 12 schools from seven districts in Northern New Mexico. According to MSA team member Randy Merker, “This work is done through collaborative lesson design, observation, and refinement, as well as formal professional development sessions facilitated by MSA staff and a university mathematics education professor.”

The MTLN also provides a platform for teachers, teacher leaders, and school leadership to learn from and share with one another through cross-school collaboration.

Looking to the future

“What we have learned over the last 22 years is that if we genuinely wish to realize meaningful change in education, we need to invest in supporting the entire system rather than just individual teachers,” says Zachary Leonard, another MSA team member.

As a result, MSA’s next phase will focus on developing teacher leaders and school leaders. 

“If we help the leadership in schools design and implement professional learning structures within the school day, ones that provide opportunities for 'learning by doing' then those leadership teams will return to their schools and become the mathematics change agents in their classrooms, schools and districts,” says Leonard.

MSA also plans to build on their history of robust partnerships. In the future, the Math Teacher Leader Network will have an option for schools to work toward a mathematics leadership school designation, provide opportunities for teachers to work toward a master’s degree in mathematics teacher leadership, and create a pathway toward an Elementary Mathematics Specialist endorsement.  

As MSA prepares for its next 22 years, “El trabajo te dice que hacer” once again rises to the surface as words to live by.