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Professional development for teachers

Focus on Algebra: Transforming Math Education in New Mexico

June 17, 2024|By Genesis Moreno

The New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) is on a mission to transform math education across the state. “Focus on Algebra,” a professional learning program facilitated by the Charles A. Dana Center in collaboration with NMPED, is a part of a strategic initiative in New Mexico to build an appreciation for math at every grade level.
“Transforming a system is about transforming the relationships between groups and people who make up the system,” said Denise Thornton, Focus on Algebra project lead and Dana Center professional learning manager. “Bringing whole school teams into the work creates a huge impact, especially since changing mindsets often takes a movement.”

What is the “Focus on Algebra” series?

Algebra is a bridge to advanced mathematics and an important milestone for students’ future goals. “When students are successful in Algebra 1, they build confidence to take higher level mathematics that align with their career aspirations,” said Shafiq Chaudhary, director of math and science bureau at PED.
The Focus on Algebra series enhances algebra readiness through meaningful professional learning that covers effective instructional practices and algebraic content aligned with New Mexico’s math standards for grade 6–9. The program is open to school teams—teachers, administrators, and instructional coaches—at the middle and high school levels to deepen their collective understanding of algebra. Participants engage in continuous professional learning through both in-person and virtual sessions to prepare their students for Algebra 1.
The series for the first cohort, which included over 95 educators attending sessions in both Albuquerque and Las Cruces, concluded this April—marking the end of a shared learning journey. 

The Impact: From Teachers to Students 

Focus on Algebra is not just about professional development; it’s about creating a ripple effect that extends from teachers to students and, ultimately, to entire learning communities. One of the most valuable aspects of the program is in fact the sense of community it fosters among educators and administrators alike. 
“Having the opportunity to meet with our staff and different educators from across the state and really put our minds together has been a rich and rewarding experience. It’s helped me understand that a lot of the struggles we have are shared across the state,” said Gregory Rael, math department chair at Taos Municipal School District. 
When educators from different schools come together to share experiences, exchange ideas, and support one another’s growth, they create a collaborative environment that contributes to a stronger, more cohesive mathematics program on their campuses.

"We can help kids know that math can be fun. It doesn’t have to be the scary monster in the room. It’s not just about dividing two numbers, it’s about working through a problem that can have real-life application," said Cathy Gaffney, math teacher at Cloudcroft Middle School.

Many teachers reported significant improvement in the way they facilitated learning in their classrooms. Because the program emphasizes the use of pedagogical strategies, such as productive struggle and student discourse, educators felt better equipped to teach algebraic concepts in an accessible and engaging way across multiple grade levels. 
“I’m at the high school level, and, for me, math is a lot of problem-solving. When I team up with middle school teachers, I learn new ideas on how to approach math with my high school students that helps them make the connection from previous classes,” shared Fiona Pham, math teacher at Grants High School. 



What’s Next: The Future of Math Education in New Mexico

New Mexico PED’s ongoing projects with the Dana Center, including the Launch Years Initiative and the  New Mexico Re-Envisioning High School Mathematics Pathways Working Group, continue efforts to ensure all students have access to high-quality math education. 
The Focus on Algebra series offers a blueprint for transforming math education and fostering a love for math among entire school communities. By empowering teachers and site leaders with practical knowledge and skills, we are ensuring a brighter and more successful future for students across New Mexico. 

About the Author

Genesis Moreno

It’s been both a challenge and an incredible joy to discover the right combination of words to share an idea. Dedicating my career to exploring creativity has led me to meaningful work that empowers others. Working at the Charles A. Dana Center is where my passion for purpose and creativity meet.