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Charter To Help At-Risk Children

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Targeting an educational path with an eye toward a growth industry helped Health Leadership High School win unanimous approval by the state Public Education Commission.

The commission voted 9-0 at its meeting Wednesday in Santa Fe to approve the charter school under the condition that it be located in the South Valley or on the Southwest Mesa, said PEC Chairman Andrew Garrison.

Of nine charter schools up for approval, Health Leadership was the only one to gain approval.

“The school is very different, that’s one of the reasons,” Garrison said of its approval.

The school will have a dual mission: helping traditional-track, at-risk students stay in school while also reaching out to dropouts through flex-hour classes. The goal would be to deliver an education that would prepare graduates for health industry careers or to transition into higher learning in the health field, said its principal, Gabriella Duran-Blakey.

Albuquerque Public Schools officials declined to comment on adding another charter school to the district, but they spoke out against the school when the commission held a public forum last month.

APS policy analyst Carrie Menapace earlier said the district already has numerous charter schools that serve at-risk students or those who have dropped out. She said career-oriented classes and a nursing program are already available through the Career Enrichment Center, Atrisco Heritage Academy and classes students can take for free at Central New Mexico Community College.

At the public forum, APS noted that there are nine high schools or charter schools in the South Valley that cater to high-risk students.

But in researching the application, Garrison said that eight of those schools received a “D” or an “F” in the state’s new grading formula, while the ninth had a “C.”

Educator Tony Monfiletto, who founded Amy Biehl charter high school and is head of ACE Leadership charter high, helped spearhead Health Leadership.

Many of its practices will be based on the ideals used at ACE (architecture, construction and engineering), only using health as the baseline educational model.

The school is expected to being operation in August 2013, Duran-Blakey said.

Health Leadership will not just teach vocational skills, but will teach state academic standards through the lens of career skills.

For instance, students will learn science by learning about anatomy and nutrition, and social studies by learning about health risk factors in New Mexico and media literacy.

The school has established partnerships with the local health industry to make the curriculum as useful as possible for students seeking jobs.

The top two priorities for the school at the moment are finding a site and developing the curriculum, Duran-Blakey said.

The community partners, which include health organizations like First Choice Healthcare, Presbyterian Healthcare Services and the University of New Mexico Hospital, should be able to help with those priorities, she said, particularly in the area of curriculum, as the health industry looks at training its future employees.

“We’re going to be digging into the curriculum and designing it with our industry partners,” she said. “They’ll drive what our students need to know going into the field for the next five to 10 years. Then we want to make sure to connect that to the students and (educational) standards.”

The school will start with about 100 students split about evenly between traditional track and dropouts, Duran-Blakey said, and add about 100 additional students a year for the ensuing three years.

The key in attracting students will be in showing them the value of their education as it relates to employment, she said.

“When we have a partnership with the industry, the students everyday can see it’s real work that they can do,” Duran-Blakey said. “They will become engaged in their education and their future.”
— This article appeared on page 22 of the Albuquerque Journal