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South Valley Academy Plans $8M Expansion

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For a dozen years, students at the South Valley Academy have trudged from one portable building to another.

Science classes had to make do without dedicated gas lines to fire up the Bunsen burners.

And almost all classes had no running water.

But all that is going to change soon, as the charter school that serves 260 students at a 16-acre campus on Blake Road near Coors will be undergoing a makeover of the most-extreme kind — an $8 million makeover, to be exact.


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Administrators recently published a request for proposals to build a 25,000-square-foot complex with three separate wings. It will include a 10-classroom wing, an administrative building and a science wing, including a greenhouse to complement the school’s on-site organic farm.

Proposals are due by September and, if all goes well, students and teachers will be moving into their new digs by the second semester of the 2013-14 school year, said Katarina Sandoval, the school’s principal and co-founder.

Money for the project is coming through Albuquerque Public Schools, which will continue to own the buildings and lease them back to the Academy, she said. A memorandum of understanding is being negotiated to cover terms of the agreement, Sandoval said.

One of the city’s first charter schools, South Valley Academy has enjoyed significant success and was recently named the third-best high school in the state by the magazine U.S. News and World Report.

The new buildings will allow the school to build on that success, Sandoval said.

“This is an adequacy issue and a health issue,” she said. “We’re extremely excited. This will help us so much.”

And now with a permanent campus on the horizon, Sandoval said the Academy plans to expand its services by adding a middle school, starting with sixth-graders in the 2013-14 school year.

“We just believe that we can do even better if we have the students longer,” she said.

The addition of the middle school students will nearly double the student population to about 500, Sandoval estimated.

Most of the school’s current group of 15 portables will remain to house the middle school students until additional construction money is available.

The school, which has a student-teacher ratio of about 20-1, caters to teenagers who struggle in traditional learning environments, Sandoval said.

More than 90 percent of students at the Academy are Hispanic, with the vast majority being children of Mexican immigrants, Sandoval said, adding that over 93 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch.

But the Academy sends about 95 percent of its graduates to two- or four-year colleges, with the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College being the most common, she said.
— This article appeared on page 1 of the West Side Journal