LAS CRUCES – Friday’s meeting of the New Mexico Public Education Commission could be pivotal for La Academia Dolores Huerta, as the charter school is expected to report its progress on a tough corrective action plan.
At a commission meeting in January, PEC Chairwoman Patricia Gipson expressed concern about the school’s financial sustainability and delays in mid-year assessments which the school attributed to a cyberattack that disabled its internet service.
Meeting steep goals set by the commission last summer was further complicated by unforeseen events last fall.
The school, located on Bell Avenue in the Mesilla Park neighborhood of Las Cruces, is a dual language public charter school serving grades 6 through 8. It is well-known locally for student performances of ballet folklórico around the community. The school also integrates mariachi and conjunto music instruction, arts and creative media.
Enrollment at the school fell after the PEC denied a renewal of its charter on a 4-3 vote a year ago, and the school’s attorney told the governing council she saw no avenue for appeal. At a tearful public meeting, staff and student families confronted the possible closure of the school.
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The administration appealed nonetheless, and Public Education Secretary Karen Trujillo (who is now superintendent of the Las Cruces Public Schools) overturned the PEC’s decision last March, granting the school a reprieve.
While pursuing an administrative appeal of Trujillo’s decision, the PEC approved a corrective action plan for La Academia last summer that set high benchmarks for reversing what commissioners called “a downward trend” in the school’s academic performance.
The plan requires 65 percent of the school’s students to demonstrate 10 percent growth in math and reading in the first semester of the current school year, followed by an additional 10 percent in the second semester, as measured in online student assessments.
During the fall semester, however, the school saw the resignation of principal Melissa Miranda as well as delays in testing and the implementation of a new community service requirement.
Low enrollment and delayed testing
Shortly before resigning in November, Miranda reported that 77 students were enrolled at the school, representing a 36 percent drop from enrollment at the same point during the previous year.
Miranda conceded that no student recruitment had taken place because of the possibility of the school closing. She also attributed the drop to publicity about the school’s charter and its recent change of location.
At a subsequent governing council meeting, the school’s finance committee advised that unless enrollment increased it could anticipate a $300,000 reduction in education funding from the state next year.
Meanwhile, student prep for December assessments had been delayed since the school’s internet service, obtained via the Las Cruces Public Schools, was disabled in the aftermath of a ransomware attack targeting LCPS.
More: Las Cruces Public Schools cyberattack affected charter schools, too
At a tense public meeting later that month, governing council members grilled Miranda on why more had not been accomplished prior to the attack, which occurred on Oct. 29, and why there were no contingencies for a loss of internet service.
Days later, Miranda resigned. Instructional coach Sylvy Galvan de Lucero was named interim head administrator, and on Jan. 24 she faced the PEC during a special meeting in Santa Fe.
Galvan de Lucero told the commission midyear assessments were scheduled to begin Jan. 27, and she confirmed Wednesday to the Sun-News she will present that data in Santa Fe on Friday. Those results will indicate whether the school fulfilled the corrective action plan’s benchmarks for the first semester.
Recruiting students for next year
At the January meeting, Galvan de Lucero told commissioners 82 students were currently enrolled at the school, after she was asked about a Jan. 9 interview on KRWG during which she had said the school served “approximately 120 — we’re a little below that currently.”
After clarifying the school’s enrollment, Gipson said, “Obviously, the concern is when that chunk of eighth-graders goes … it’s really small. So there is that concern about the financial sustainability with small numbers.”
More: La Academia Dolores Huerta families voice dismay at governing council meeting
The school has resumed recruiting activities, with plans for an open house at the school no later than mid-March. Galvan de Lucero said the school also hopes to organize recruiting events at Plaza de Las Cruces downtown that would include other local charter schools.
In the meantime, Galvan de Lucero told the Sun-News, “We are currently accepting walk-in registrations for the coming school year. Our office is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for anyone interested in coming by to pick up information and/or begin the registration process.”
At the commission meeting last month, Galvan de Lucero said the school had adopted new curriculum materials in math and language arts while maintaining its commitment to arts and cultural enrichment.
However, the discussion was brief, as Gipson said, “There’s really not a whole lot we can do until we get the results of the interim assessments.”
Galvan de Lucero did not preview what that data shows, but what she presents Friday — to a commission that previously voted not to renew the school’s charter — may shed light on the school’s future prospects.
Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.
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