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Editorial: PEC needs to give MAS charter cap another hearing

At a time when the state is under court ruling to improve education for minority and low-income students, the Public Education Commission chose to bow to neighborhood traffic gripes over increasing the opportunity for more New Mexico kids to get a high-quality education.

Mission Achievement and Success Charter School serves 1,140 K-12 students at its campus on Yale and Ross SE and launched a second campus last fall off Old Coors NW, starting with K-3. It had asked the PEC for an enrollment cap increase to 1,560 at each campus, phasing the growth in over several years. (The school has a wait list of more than 1,000 students.)

The student bodies are around 90% minority and 85% free and reduced lunch and record monumental academic gains over their peers across the state. In 2018-19 (the last year tested due to the COVID-19 pandemic), 78% of MAS second-graders could read at grade level, compared to 51% in Rio Rancho, 44% in APS and just 36% statewide.

And yet, the PEC spent two hours at a recent meeting listening to neighbors’ traffic concerns and refused to take call-ins from MAS students, parents and employees, according to the school’s principal. It also ignored traffic mitigation measures already taken and in the works.

What would Judge Sarah Singleton, who ruled in the landmark Martinez-Yazzie education case that New Mexico is not sufficiently serving its at-risk students, say about these priorities if she were alive today?

This is not to say residents’ valid concerns should be minimized or dismissed. But look at the bigger picture.

First, MAS founder and principal JoAnn Mitchell said she asked the city of Albuquerque for a traffic signal, striping and a crossing guard at Ross and Yale. When the city said no, that Lowell Elementary a few blocks away has them and that’s enough, Mitchell stationed her own crossing guard there to ensure student and driver safety. Why wouldn’t the city want to do whatever it can to help MAS succeed, given its track record of closing the achievement gap for so many of our children?

When mediation with neighbors revealed concerns about lines during drop-off and pick-up times, the school repaved the pot-holed dirt alley behind the school to divert the traffic. When neighbors complained about buses and employee vehicles legally parked on Ross, the school began repaving and gating its parking lot to encourage staff and parents to park there. That work is going on this summer.

And because some raised the buzzword of “safety,” the school brought in its insurance carrier to come out and assess. Mitchell says that written report shows zero safety concerns, as does the site evaluation this year by the Public Education Department.

Mitchell has also reached out to City Councilor Pat Davis and says he shared that striping Ross to ban parking on one side could be an option, as well as putting a bus lane down the middle of the street, to address traffic concerns.

The PEC meeting May 22 ended with Mitchell asking specifically what she could do to alleviate commissioners’ safety concerns; she was told to “read the transcript.”

Instead, we would ask Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has vowed to close or even erase the achievement gap so prevalent in our state’s education system, to apply gentle pressure to these elected commissioners to allow MAS to resubmit its request in time for the coming school year. And PED Secretary Ryan Stewart to provide counsel on the importance of priorities in education. And the City of Albuquerque and Councilor Davis to see what traffic calming measures can be installed.

MAS is an amazing success story that has opened up doors and opportunities for some of our city’s most disadvantaged students. Especially in these tortured social times, under this court ruling, now is the time for the necessary city and state entities to come together to address traffic concerns so additional students can share in these opportunities.

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.