When Voz Collegiate Preparatory Charter School was unexpectedly denied a charter outright at the Albuquerque Public Schools’ board meeting (in August), founder Isaac Rivas-Savell wasn’t the only one who felt a sense of loss. After stating that his application had “set a new bar,” that his governing board of directors was “among the most impressive” they’d seen and hearing more than a dozen community members stand in support, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education voted 5-2 against the charter, despite a recommendation of approval from APS staff.
It’s not that Voz Collegiate didn’t sound like a good idea, they reasoned; Albuquerque just doesn’t need another school.
As a leader of charter schools in Albuquerque, I would have competed for students with Voz Collegiate, but that is beside the point. We support promising new schools like Rivas-Savell’s because students and families deserve school options that will best serve them. That is the promise of charter schools and, frankly, should be the promise of all of our schools. Competition is welcome and will help us to continue to grow and provide the best schools that we can for the city of Albuquerque and the state of New Mexico.
As Matt Pahl, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Public Charter Schools, stated at the APS hearing, the number of charter schools in the state has decreased since 2015, largely due to a focus on quality in the charter sector. That is a good thing for our students. Charter schools like ours are held accountable to students and families, and if we fail to provide a good school for them, we face closure. This means better schools for New Mexico, and that is something that we should all be in favor of. Denying the opportunity to serve students when a school such as Voz Collegiate is proposed because of a perceived need to keep the number of schools constant ignores that promise.
It’s time that APS and other traditional public schools and districts stopped seeing charter schools as the enemy. Prohibiting quality charters from launching is dangerously small-minded. As a state, we have a long road ahead of us. It will take all of us to climb up from last place in our education rankings, and simply staying the course isn’t going to help that.
The real fight isn’t between traditional and chartered public schools. It’s all of us against our state’s dismal record of shorting our kids of the free, quality education they deserve. I challenge every one of us who purports to want what is best for our state’s students to have the courage to welcome promising new options for them and learn from one another, even when it means competing with them at the same time. It’s the right thing to do.
JoAnn Mitchell was 2013 Principal of the Year.