Albuquerque Public Schools officials are interested in creating more magnet schools to retain middle school students who might otherwise enroll in charter or private schools.
The APS board on Wednesday voiced support for the proposal by Katarina Sandoval, who runs the district’s new Office of Innovation.
“I was really glad to see you’re talking about middle schools, because we do have a gap there,” board member Analee Maestas told Sandoval during a meeting Wednesday.
Magnet schools, like charter schools, offer alternative curriculum, but the district retains academic oversight.
Between last school year and the current year, APS lost 930 students who were entering the sixth grade, which is the year they move to middle school, said spokesman Rigo Chavez. That cost the district about $7 million.
Board members and administrators believe some students leave APS because of a lack of choice at the middle school level. The district has magnets at the elementary and high school levels, but only one middle school magnet – Vision Quest Alternative Middle School, which serves at-risk students.
APS now has 11 magnet schools, according to its website, and Sandoval said she would like to add two or three magnets a year for several years. The earliest new magnets might open is 2015, but the planning is still in the early stages, Sandoval said.
Among Sandoval’s ideas are creating a STEM magnet that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math; a dual-language magnet and a fine arts magnet that would align with APS magnets at the elementary level, she said.
The creation of magnet schools wouldn’t require new construction because some APS schools have space where they could be housed, Sandoval said.
School board president Marty Esquivel said some parents choose charter schools because they’re concerned their child will struggle at a large middle school.
The average enrollment at APS middle schools is 698 students, and ranges from 326 to 1,400. Sandoval said magnet schools would range in enrollment from 300 to 500.
Board member Lorenzo Garcia said expanding magnets is fine, but the district can’t lose sight of improving its existing middle schools.
“We’re trying to do both. We’re addressing our struggling middle schools and the magnet concept,” Superintendent Winston Brooks said.