The Albuquerque Public Schools (APS) Board of Education engaged in a passionate debate during its recent meeting about the proposed expansion of East Mountain High School (EMHS), a charter school situated in the East Mountain region, and the renewal of three other charter school contracts. The discussion featured a range of perspectives on whether to grant the school’s request for an amendment to its contract that would allow EMHS to grow to serve middle school students within the next four years. EMHS was not the only school with its contract up for debate, but it was the most hotly contested contract to be approved.
The APS board room was so full of speakers, presenters, and community members that the school district had to open an overflow room down the hall from the boardroom, where visitors could watch the meeting on a live stream.
During public comment EMHS teachers, families, students and community members presented their case for expanding the school’s grade levels to include middle school students. They emphasized the institution’s achievements, such as its impressive graduation rates and a track record of success in serving a diverse student body. The majority of public comment was in support of EMHS’ expansion, with the few opposition comments concerned about the impact on other schools in the area.
EMHS has a history of success to boast about. With a four year graduation rate of 90.4 percent, 55.5 percent proficiency in mathematics, 72.8 percent proficiency in reading, and 67.4 percent proficiency in science, the school has rates that are nearly double statewide proficiency rates.
However, as the discussion progressed, two school board members began expressing reservations about the potential consequences of EMHS’ expansion on other schools within the district – in particular, Roosevelt Middle School.
Board member Barbra Peterson raised concerns about the concept of “right sizing.” APS has seen a significant decline in enrollment over the last decade, prompting the district to begin planning to “right size” the district’s facilities to better fit the district’s enrollment.
Peterson stressed the importance of considering the district’s responsibilities to all schools, particularly those of comparable size.
During the discussion, Board Member Courtney Jackson expressed robust support for EMHS. She commended the school’s dedication to serving a diverse student body and lauded its impressive graduation rates and academic achievements, particularly among Hispanic students. “I see this not about expanding enrollment but about doing right by more students. It’s stunning to me that members wouldn’t want to approve this. I mean, you have over 90 percent of the students that are from the neighborhood, and your graduation rates over the last six years average over 90 percent. So to me, I am totally supportive of this absolutely phenomenal school.”
In contrast, Board Member Josefina Dominguez voiced apprehensions about the potential impact of EMHS’s expansion on Roosevelt Middle School. Dominguez suggested that the expansion might lead to detrimental consequences for other schools in the area, emphasizing the importance of equitably allocating limited public resources. “This board is supposed to act on the sober reality of limited resources and that on those with the highest need and your project does not meet that requirement not by my understanding,” Dominguez said.
During debate, Dominguez said the school district received a letter from a Bernalillo County Commissioner who opposed the expansion of EMHS. According to Dominguez, the letter threatened to stop a partnership between the county and EMHS that allows the school to use the community center for gym class since the school donated the land that building sits on and helped pay for construction of. School administrators explained that the letter holds no power as the county and school have signed agreements.
Board President Yolanda Montoya-Cordova had a lengthy discussion with School Principal and Head Administrator Trey Smith. Montoya Cordova pressed Smith about the EMHS’ operations might change if they include a middle school to their efforts, Smith said the school expansion would allow students to get a stronger and earlier start to academic success. Montoya-Cordova asked Smith about the letter from the Bernalillo County Commissioner, Smith explained that the school and county have a signed agreement, so there would be no change in operations at the school that would have a negative impact.
“In your area, this is a special school,” Montoya-Cordova said, “I wish we didn’t need this kind of a resource, and that all of our students were thriving in our traditional school, but we know that we have students that really require this specialization.”
Ultimately, the board voted 5-2 in favor of approving the amendment to EMHS’s contract, allowing for the expansion of the school to include middle school student, school administration hopes to open the middle school in 2027 or sooner, depending on the speed of construction and permitting processes. Board Members Dominguez and Peterson voted against the expansion of EMHS.
At this meeting, APS was also tasked with deciding on three other charter school contracts.
The APS Board of Education unanimously renewed a five-year contract for ABQ Charter Academy after parents, students, and teachers spoke about the progress students are seeing at the school in both social and emotional skills and academics.
The APS Board of Education unanimously renewed the charter for Coral Community Charter School for a term of five years after several of the school’s younger students came to speak in favor of the school, with their parents and teachers in the room to support them.
The APS Board of Education unanimously renewed Gilbert L. Sena Charter School for a five-year term, after staff and parents spoke about the positive development they are seeing in students at the school.
The final three contracts were approved with little debate. The meeting adjourned, with a strengthened charter school atmosphere in the Albuquerque Public School district.