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Editorial: AIMS critics raise a trot line of red herrings

It’s No. 48 on The Washington Post’s 2014 list of most challenging high schools – public and private.

It’s in the top 25 percent of Newsweek’s 2014 top 2,000 schools in the country.

It’s a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School designated by the U.S. Department of Education.

It received an “A” from the New Mexico Department of Education in 2012 and 2013.

More than 94 percent of its students are proficient in reading and math, with no achievement gap.

That recognition and achievements – and more importantly, that level of education – are what New Mexico students, parents, employers, taxpayers and leaders have been seeking for years.

Oh, and it’s all absolutely free to any 6-12 public school student in New Mexico who applies and wins admission through a lottery.

We’re talking about the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science charter school.

And yet despite all the aforementioned, some state and Rio Rancho officials are still doing everything they can to keep AIMS from expanding that impressive track record to a second campus. Really.

Because while rational parents, taxpayers, employers and government officials would partake in a bidding war to get a public school of this caliber in their neighborhood, Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland has raised an entire trot line of red herrings to block the school from opening with just sixth graders in two classrooms on the UNM West campus.

And the Public Education Commission, which oversees state charter schools, has bitten. Action on the proposed AIMS expansion has been delayed until the commission’s May 9 meeting.

AIMS’ focus is on dual college enrollment, and its state charter requires it to be on a UNM campus. State law mandates it be in a state-owned building soon. It has operated as an exemplary example of educating all comers (30 percent of its students qualify for subsidized lunch, 42 percent are in special education).

Yet some folks just don’t want to see anything different in the City of Vision.

Even if all statistics show that something different is great for all involved. And that’s simply myopic.

Cleveland says there is concern about putting middle school students on the same campus as college students. But the current AIMS campus is on UNM south, its upperclassmen take courses at UNM and adjacent Central New Mexico Community College, and all AIMS students must adhere to a strict dress code that allows faculty, staff and security with both schools to keep an eye out for the younger students.

Cleveland also says allowing rooms on the UNM West campus to be used by 40 AIMS sixth-graders could impede UNM West’s goal of expanding its programs and offering more courses. That would have more credibility if UNM actually had a plan for making UNM West a viable offshoot. To date you can shoot a cannon down hallways and not hit anyone.

Another Cleveland concern is that Rio Rancho voters recently approved a higher education tax and could become upset if the UNM West campus, which the tax supports, is used for another purpose. But AIMS will be paying UNM rent – and you don’t have to get an “A” in math to figure out that getting paid so a nationally-recognized public school program can educate students in a space that would have been sitting empty is a better deal than not educating students and not getting paid.

Nevertheless, Cleveland has convinced fellow members on the UNM West Advisory Council to question the expansion, and the PEC to take some more time “to collect relevant facts and documents” related to a fishing expedition that appears to be more about fear of competition than anything else.

So here are some relevant facts to chew on: Last year the PEC approved a charter amendment allowing AIMS to establish another location. Last month University of New Mexico regents approved an “agreement in principle” that will allow AIMS in a UNM West building.

Those facts, and AIMS’ impressive state and national track record, should be enough to cut all those red herrings loose once and for all.

30 percent of AIMS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.