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Editorial: Why isn’t NM replicating its top-performing schools?

Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science has again been ranked by U.S. News as New Mexico’s top public high school and one of the nation’s 250 best.

A charter school that serves about 330 students in grades 6-12 from a broad geographic and socio-economic cross-section of the Metro area, AIMS has a stellar graduation rate and proficiency numbers in the 90s for math and reading. It can’t cherry-pick students, as by statute admissions are by lottery, and the waiting list is over 1,000.

So you would think state and local education and political leaders would be doing everything they could to replicate this kind of student success. And this being New Mexico, you of course would be wrong.

In fact, the Rio Rancho School District has been fighting tooth and nail to keep AIMS from establishing a West Side campus – dipping into taxpayer funds to pay lawyers to oppose the proposed expansion. AIMS principal Kathy Sandoval-Snider hasn’t backed down, and the school is battling in court to serve what she says is a significant demand on the West Side.

The existing school, which owes its existence largely to the determination of then-Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chávez, a Democrat, holds classes in a crowded building on the University of New Mexico South Campus near Dreamstyle Arena.

So why is AIMS frowned upon by many in the education establishment and the teacher union apparatus?

It is student-centric, results-oriented and believes in teacher accountability and a sliding scale of compensation based on performance.

While she’s clearly pleased with the current “gold medal,” Sandoval Snider says “what matters more to me is when we get PARCC scores.” That’s heresy in most of the public education world, as well as local political candidacies. She adds that if you are continuing to get better as a school, that means “the children are getting better.”

AIMS isn’t the only New Mexico public high school in the top 1,000 nationally on the U.S. News ranking. Another charter, Academy for Technology and Classics in Santa Fe, is ranked No. 2 in the state and 474 nationally; Los Alamos High School is No. 3 in the state and 792 in the nation.

Although they didn’t crack the top 1,000 nationally, N.M.’s top 10 is rounded out by Early College Academy in Albuquerque at No. 4., La Cueva High School at No. 5 followed in order by Ask Academy in Rio Rancho, Cloudcroft High School, New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe, Santa Teresa High School and Texico High School.

Congrats to the top 10 – N.M.’s other schools can learn from them.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.