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AIMS is good for the kids of Rio Rancho

I have the privilege of being the director of the Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science at UNM, recognized by U.S. News and World Report as the highest-performing school in New Mexico.

This year, we became a National Blue Ribbon School; one of only 11 charter schools in the nation to receive that honor. The rigor of our program is rated 48th in the country according to the Washington Post.

This school has consistently improved each year; from only 30 percent of students performing at or above grade level in math or reading to the current success of 95 percent.

Who wouldn’t want a school like this in their district?

On Feb. 1, 2013, AIMS applied for and received an amendment that allowed two things: expansion to another UNM location and an increase in the resulting enrollment. It was approved and the transcript was posted on the Public Education Commission website.

A year later, after careful consideration, AIMS presented a proposal to the UNM Regents Academic Affairs Committee about expanding onto the UNM West location. A Rio Rancho school board member sits on that committee. The proposal was approved unanimously.

However, an article reporting the committee’s action a couple of days later spurred the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board and leadership into attack mode. The UNM West Advisory Committee, of which the superintendent is a member, also joined the fray.

Reasons against the school and its location were many, but they pretty much drilled down to money. They would have us believe the potential loss of revenue would decimate the district budget and ultimately harm children. This would make our presence disreputable.

To this point though, it’s interesting the pride the district took in boasting of the 572 students from other districts that RRPS appropriates. I’m sure the budgetary impact on the much smaller surrounding districts is deep: a duplicitous position to take.

School choice is about parents having access to the benefits of a specialized program they feel is best for their children. It’s the job of parents to know what is best for their children, not any governmental agency.

AIMS has gone through a number of transformations that have resulted in the nationally recognized school it is today: teacher research, teacher evaluation, use of data, formation of a common focused culture of success and college attendance. AIMS is a reform warrior.

To graduate, students must have 30 credits from UNM/CNM. Most students however graduate with 50 credit hours and we’ve even had students graduate with over 90 post-secondary credits. That translates to a savings of between $3,000 to $9,000 for parents and their students.

The Rio Rancho City Council and community of Rio Rancho have been very welcoming to AIMS. As supporters of education, both current and future, the UNM regents and president also lend their support to this effort.

Rio Rancho parents deserve this opportunity for their children. They shouldn’t have to travel 40 miles both ways or dip into their retirement savings to pay for the school they choose. That the program is needed is evident by the number of students the school has in its lottery already.

AIMS remains committed to this expansion. It’s the right thing to do. A school with a great record like this would be embraced by anyone committed to their community’s education. After all, it’s about the kids, right?

Reform is about stepping out of the comfort and security of the status quo to engage in real innovation. It’s time to stop this argument that at times has gotten silly and to focus on education.

Bottom line, this school is good for the kids and families of Rio Rancho. The Rio Rancho district and leadership should embrace the competition; it’ll make Rio Rancho Public Schools better, it’ll make AIMS better.

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