Teachers union objects to proposed charter school - Albuquerque Journal

Teachers union objects to proposed charter school

Albuquerque Teachers Federation stood in opposition to a proposed charter school for the South Valley — a first according to its president.

In a full room at the New Mexico Activities Association in Albuquerque on Thursday, ATF was among a list of speakers — both in support and against — at Solare Collegiate Charter School’s community input hearing in front of the Public Education Commission.

Many spoke — for just over a minute each — on what they felt was best for the South Valley, where the school serving grades five through eight would operate.

ATF President Ellen Bernstein objected to where Solare has received support.

“Solare is funded by anti-public schools corporate reformers,” she told the Journal. “We don’t need privateers running schools in our state.”

Bernstein noted that Building Excellent Schools, which lists donors with corporate ties like the Walton Family Foundation in its 2017 annual report, had an affiliation with the school.

But Solare lead founder and former teacher Rachael Sewards said she feels that opposition is a misconception, saying she only has received funding for the school from Excellent Schools New Mexico thus far and noted the school would receive public school funds if authorized.

Scott Hindman, executive director of Excellent Schools New Mexico, confirmed it is the only organization funding Solare and said its money comes from the Daniels Fund and from individual New Mexicans.

“100 percent of the funding received by Solare is local, New Mexico funding,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.

But he also said Building Excellent Schools has provided professional development for Sewards to give her training to launch Solare.

“We provided a grant to Building Excellent Schools to fund that training. We’re a nonprofit; Building Excellent Schools is a nonprofit. Other than that, there’s no relationship between my organization and Building Excellent Schools,” Hindman wrote.

Some of the opposition was more broad and directed to the state of education in general.

Isaac de Luna, a father and communications director for New Mexico Dream Team, told the PEC that New Mexico’s education system should be evaluating and improving schools already up and running.

“We keep spending this money on new institutions instead of analyzing existing institutions,” he said.

But many also spoke in support of the school.

Teresa Naranjo, a local parent, came to the hearing with her son Samuel because of the impact Sewards, his former teacher, had on the 14-year-old’s life.

Naranjo said she strongly supports the school and saw how Sewards can impact students.

“I believe Miss Sewards is very capable at getting kids to where they need to be,” she said.

And she said if Solare could open, she believed Sewards would benefit the South Valley community just like she benefited Samuel’s life.

Jerome Daye had a similar sentiment, saying he believes the board has a strong foundation with “a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds.”

Overall, Sewards said she “can’t predict the future” but was cautiously optimistic about Thursday’s hearing.

During the hearing, PEC members also got the chance to ask questions and make comments. Several questioned the uniqueness of the school’s mission and highlighted the necessity of charters to create that niche vision.

“I am confident in the application we’ve written,” Sewards said.

If approved, the school would begin operation in the 2019-20 school year.

Solare is scheduled to hear from PEC next month.

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