On Nov. 17, educational history was made in New Mexico. I was there to witness it. The most successful Title 1 charter school in New Mexico serving a predominantly low-income, high-minority and high-special-needs population, Mission Achievement and Success (MAS) charter school, bravely, boldly and unapologetically blazed a new trail as the first charter school in New Mexico to replicate its successful school model.
What’s the big deal about that, you ask? Well, if you live in other parts of the United States, in New York or New Jersey, for example, you might be thinking, “Ok, so what? We do this all of the time out here.” If you live here in New Mexico and follow education policy, you know this is a big deal. No other charter school has yet succeeded in replicating, and many have said it can’t be done. We’ve been stuck in the past, essentially.
With one member of the Public Education Commission (PEC) remaining, the vote was tied. The request being presented had been given the highest of recommendations by the Public Education Department (PED), which recently received a $22.5 million federal grant to fund replication of successful charter schools in New Mexico. When the tie-breaking vote was cast, the PEC approved MAS charter school’s replication.
As the 30-plus mid/high school students so aptly put it afterward in their video message to their friends, teachers and families, “M.A.S. 2.0!”
The big deal is that, on the face of it, there is no statute or policy in place to mandate how a charter school replication is carried out in New Mexico or what criteria must be met to qualify to replicate a successful charter school. Commissioners who voted against approval of MAS’ application for replication were not voting against the school or communicating that they didn’t think the replication could succeed. They made that abundantly clear. If anyone could do it and if anyone had the track record to prove that they could succeed, it was JoAnn Mitchell, who founded the school, they emphatically repeated. Their main concern was not having established policies and criteria that would be followed for future requests, especially by other schools that are not succeeding in the same way that MAS charter school is.
The message from the PEC and the PED was loud and clear, though. They want to invest in, and approve the operation of, only the highest quality charter schools in New Mexico for all of our youth. Many voices in New Mexico echo this sentiment: if a public school is continuously failing to adequately educate its students, even after being provided assistance from the PED, the federal government, or mentor principals or teachers, it should not be allowed to continue to fail our students and our communities. Funds supporting those schools can be better used by channeling them to schools that are consistently successful, to allow them to grow or replicate and serve more students.
The doors of possibility are opening, and the winds of change are being ushered in, finally. New Mexico is now poised to offer more high-quality educational alternatives for students. The resistance to change that has kept us living in the Old West, where the typical loyalty to a district, a principal, a school, a teacher or a location that has persisted beyond what is rational, is over. What we need, and is now being resurrected, is our personal and professional commitments to be loyal to the students. As Commissioner Karyl Armbruster said when she made the motion Friday to approve the application of MAS charter school, “Not even one student on their waiting lists should have to wait another day for this high-quality education option to be provided to them, so we have to act now.”