Multiple ABQ schools may be on the chopping block as district eyes 'right-sizing' - Albuquerque Journal

Multiple ABQ schools may be on the chopping block as district eyes ‘right-sizing’

Rachel Lopez, right, kisses and blesses her daughter, Shelby Lopez-Sanders before her first day of sixth grade at Garfield STEM Magnet and Community School in August. Garfield is one of the schools facing a new future under recommendations presented to the Albuquerque Public Schools board on Monday to right size the district. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

A few schools may be on the chopping block as Albuquerque Public Schools moves forward in right-sizing.

While no facilities are closing altogether, a committee of about half a dozen APS officials on Monday brought the school board recommendations for repurposing several campuses and moving their students to other ones — recommendations they said would help keep APS “academically and financially viable.”

“We’ve been talking about this for quite some time,” Superintendent Scott Elder, who’s not on the committee, said. “We understand the impacts of closing schools, and so what we’re looking to do is to not necessarily shut our schools, but to create alternatives, and place our students in other areas.”

The district has been under pressure to right size for some time, but especially since the Legislative Finance Committee in April told APS it was time, given the growing gap between its funding and enrollment.

Officials recommended that five schools, most of them near the North Valley area, be repurposed and have their students put in different schools — Duranes, La Luz and Kirtland elementary schools, along with Polk and Taft middle schools.

Two of those schools — Duranes and La Luz, both near the North Valley — would be redesigned and turned into early childhood centers under the committee’s recommendations.

The Kirtland property, the committee said, could be swapped for up to 10 acres of the housing development just northeast of Gibson and Carlisle, where another early childhood center would be constructed.

Taft, which is one of three middle schools in a roughly 5-mile corridor in the North Valley and Los Ranchos areas, would still be a school under the recommendations.

Its students would still be moved, and Taft itself would become a bilingual magnet middle school that students from Coronado Dual Language Magnet School — about six miles away — could flow to.

Garfield STEM Magnet and Community School, also in that middle school corridor, would lose its boundaries, and any students who don’t want to stay would move to Taylor Middle School.

Polk, in the South Valley, is also facing repurposing, but plans for that property are up in the air. Possibilities include using it as a southwest campus for the district’s school for teen parents, a “multi-use outdoor school” and another early childhood center.

Alameda Elementary School, near Alameda and Fourth Street, scored in the top five on the right-sizing rubrics, but the committee recommended that no changes be made because the school is “built on a major ancient Native American burial/archeological site.”

Other recommendations included turning Corrales Elementary School into a small pre-K through eighth grade school and removing attendance boundaries for Janet Kahn School of Integrated Arts. Ten other schools may also change boundaries to balance enrollment.

Students could be moved to different schools as early as 2024, as would be the case for Taft and Garfield pupils. Duranes and La Luz students would move in 2025, and Kirtland students in 2026. A “reboundary” timeline wasn’t included in the report for Polk students.

The proposed timelines, Capital Master Plan Executive Director Kizito Wijenje noted, are draft recommendations that are contingent on funding and board approval.

Next steps include fleshing the recommendations out, including what boundary changes and funding would look like, with Elder and the district cabinet, Chief Operations Officer Gabriella Blakey said. Affected schools will also form their own committees to discuss their wants for repurposing.

Several factors weighed in on the rubrics the committee used to come up with their recommendations, including enrollment and how empty schools are, academic outcomes, “financial viability” and equity — the latter of which included considerations about the number of English learners a school has and whether it’s a Title I school.

Equity, Capital Master Plan Executive Director Kizito Wijenje said, was one of the factors officials used to balance out their evaluations from the “purely technical and financial considerations.”

Part of what the committee hopes to accomplish, said Office of Innovation Executive Director Mark Garcia, is to make APS, especially through its magnet schools, a more appealing choice for families.

“Many students leave the district after fifth grade,” he said. “I think this might bring us back into a competitive edge, not just for parochial schools, but also for charter schools in the district.”

Elder added that the plan — which he called “clever” — would help expose students all over the city to more options and opportunities to take advantage of new curriculums and programs. He said the plan was a long time coming, and that the district couldn’t keep doing “the same thing over and over.”

Monday’s discussion came after LFC analysts, citing dwindling enrollment and bloated funding and staff numbers, called for the district to right-size in the spring of last year. Currently, APS has about 71,100 students — down from close to 89,200 students 10 years ago.

Since the district got that sobering review, officials have said it’s cut hundreds of positions, and that APS has reduced its number of vacancies districtwide.

But after they got the LFC report, officials also said that consolidating schools was on the table for the district in 2024. Since then, Elder has stressed that simply shuttering schools is “not good for the neighborhood” and “not good for economic development.”

Board Vice President Peggy Muller-Aragón urged the committee to look further, saying that some communities — like on the West Side of the city, where her district is — may benefit from selling schools.

“If we sold some of those schools … it would bring a possibility of building new neighborhoods in areas where there isn’t space for new neighborhoods,” she said. “We all know how housing is really lacking in our city.”

On another hand, board member Barbara Petersen said that for the most part, she appreciated the work that had been done on the recommendations.

“I appreciate … that it’s not just slash and burn,” she said. “This is not a business, this is a mission that we have for educating children and being a real substantive part of communities.”

WEB-ONLY: RightSizingRecommendations_01.09.2023


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