Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

What does more student loss mean for Santa Fe? | Local News

The Tesuque Elementary School had more than 100 students in its halls at the beginning of the 2018/19 school year. That fall, it was less than 70.

It is one of many schools in the Santa Fe district that has seen a sharp decline over this period, a continuing trend accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic. Even elementary schools and K-8 community schools on the south side, which have been plagued by the overcrowding of the city in recent years due to the migration of the population from the north and east, suffered appalling student losses according to 40-day counts.

Sweeney Elementary lost 155 children in those four years. Amy Biehl, 133. El Camino Real, 100. Nina Otero, 76. Ortiz Middle School saw a drop of 135 students, while Midtown Milagro Middle School – with a new $ 30.3 million campus that Opened in 2019 – lost 110. Midtown Kearny Elementary School lost 104 children; Chaparral, 84; EJ Martinez, 71st El Dorado Community School, in the sprawling subdivision south of Santa Fe, lost 89.

The latest 40-day census of 11,592 students – or 11,176 so-called full-time equivalents – shows that Santa Fe public schools lost more than 1,000 during the pandemic.

That’s enough to fill dozen of classrooms and several small schools.

With such a dramatic drop in student numbers – and a critical teacher shortage this year – is it time for the district to reconsider shutting down some of its school locations?

“We haven’t talked about it yet,” said Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez. Instead, he focuses on bringing the students back.

“The trend within the district has shown that enrollment has decreased,” said Chavez. “We see it, we are aware of it and we are doing everything in our power to make sure we can stabilize it.”

School board president Kate Noble said she saw no need for fewer schools – but saw an opportunity to rethink the idea of ​​geographic boundaries that determine which schools students attend. She envisions filling the classrooms of schools with a unique orientation with students who suit their individual needs.

For example, she said, “Tesuque could be an incredible value proposition for children who need this comprehensive socio-emotional approach.”

The four other members of the Santa Fe school board remained silent about the county’s declining enrollment.

Newly-elected Sascha Anderson declined to speak about whether she would consider closing schools to address the issue, while Rudy Garcia, Sarah Boses and Carmen Gonzales failed to respond to multiple requests for comment.

Noble said the board members have an “agreement” in which only the president will speak to the media, even when it comes to serious issues with district-wide implications.

Public schools across the state suffered unprecedented enrollment losses amid a pandemic that closed schools – some for more than a year – and shifted classrooms to online platforms when many families did not have adequate internet access for distance learning. State and school officials hoped thousands of the missing children would return this year. So far this has not happened.

While the New Mexico Public Education Department reported last week that the statewide school enrollment number was on 40th. In 2020 the number was 560 fewer than in 2019, a number that would grow to more than 600 and hit the district 2.9 million US Dollars in government funds. That year, on the 40th day, the district lost another 425 children. Administrators expect another funding blow unless government lawmakers intervene with a solution.

The school council last voted to close a school in 2016 when it decided to consolidate two middle schools to accommodate population decline and aging facilities. In 2010 three primary schools were closed and merged.

In recent years, controversial proposals for school closings have been made, but they have not been successful.

In the fall of 2019 – before the first COVID-19 infections were detected – two members of the school board and the president of the teachers’ union pushed for the closure of three elementary schools, citing steady declines in school enrollment, aging facilities and justice problems across the district: overcrowded south side campuses with high levels Poverty rates and increasing numbers of English learners; and tiny campuses in the east where wealthier families are transferring their children. The action failed. Maureen Cashmon, the board member who initiated the effort, did not stand for re-election. Board member Lorraine Price, who supported the measure, died in August.

Compared to other major school districts in the state like Albuquerque and Rio Rancho, the Santa Fe Public School has a much lower student-to-school ratio. Rio Rancho, with over 1,700 enrollment, has a little over 20 schools, while Santa Fe operates 28 campuses and oversees the Academy for Technology and the Classics, a charter school for grades 7 through 12, along with several preschools and special needs programs .

The new Mexican only included students attending the 28 public schools in the 40-day count.

Noble said it was difficult to determine the “right” number of schools for a district. While running fewer schools could result in savings, she noted that closing schools ahead of time comes with financial and emotional costs.

Chavez called the large number of schools in Santa Fe a “trademark” of the district. He also cited stable enrollments or gains in some specialized schools, such as the Mandela International Magnet School, the online Desert Sage Academy, and the Early College Opportunities High School.

Noble said she doesn’t want to rush into a conversation about how to reconsider school enrollment without community involvement, but she believes finding ways to encourage schools on the go may be key to revitalizing the shrinking district To rebalance the basis of their strengths.

“And if we can increase these, I really believe that we can get people back to public schools and increase our enrollment,” she added.

She noted that the school board will need to draw new school zones in 2022 based on the latest census data.

In the past, discussions about school closings were mainly driven by budget constraints. A government funding loss due to lower student numbers this year would be much smaller than the projected $ 9.45 million gap in 2017, which first sparked heated debate over a proposal to close two midtown elementary schools.

That year, the district considered closing Nava and EJ Martinez, but did not take action on the plan in the face of opposition.

Cashmon and Price’s 2019 closure proposal added east-facing Acequia Madre Elementary to the list.

Administrators have blamed falling birth rates for the more gradual, long-term decline in enrollment in the district before the pandemic. According to the Ministry of Public Education’s 40-day enrollment data, it lost nearly 1,400 students in all of its schools and programs in the six-year period between 2013 and 2019, compared with a loss of more than 1,000 in the past two years.

Noble pointed out another problem that could drive both families and educators away: Santa Fes’ rising property prices.

The Santa Fe Public Schools tracked the hundreds of students who dropped out last year and found that most of the children went to neighboring counties such as Rio Rancho and Albuquerque or switched to state charter schools. Others opted for home schooling or moved out of the state.

The state-accredited Turquoise Trail Charter School south of Santa Fe saw a record 742 students from preschool and eighth grade this fall, principal Chris Eide said. Many children came from public schools, he added, although he refused to indicate where new students were previously enrolled.

Some of these transfers signed up for the online option of the Turquoise Trail, which now has 75 students this year.

Santa Fe Public Schools could take another blow if the new Thrive Community School in the south opens this fall for up to 160 children in grades K-6.

Chavez acknowledged that any new school will pull students away from public schools.

“You will see a loss of enrollment,” he said. “It’s like opening a new store.”

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