Michele Altherr, left, and Liz Martineau are part of a local citizen committee proposing a charter school for Los Alamos. Photo by Bonnie J. Gordon/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
A local citizen committee is proposing something new for middle school education – a charter school.
The proposal for a charter school will officially be launched in the community 6-7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 in Fuller Lodge. The event will include an introduction on the committee’s mission as well as a chance for the public to offer feedback. Refreshments will be served. Also, 4-5 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Smith’s Marketplace meeting room, the Los Alamos Partners in 21st Century Education will discuss the proposed charter school. The public is welcome to attend.
A member of the committee, Michele Altherr, said the committee has met since last June. She explained the idea for a charter school started in 2015 during the nine month effort to win the XQ Initiative to Reimagine High Schools and receive $10 million dollars. After three rounds the Los Alamos application placed in the top 50 nationally.
The initiative inspired a group of individuals to pursue a charter school based on similar ideas.
“We discovered that the community supported the idea of developing another option for students,” Altherr said. “One model doesn’t fit everyone. So an effort began to explore what that model might look like in Los Alamos.”
Just what is a charter school? Altherr emphasized that in New Mexico it is, in fact, a public school. Similar to a conventional public school, charter schools get state funding, are evaluated by the state and are required to take state testing.
According to the committee’s model for the school, its mission is to, “provide an enriching and emotionally grounded learning environment that inspires global citizenship in an interdependent world through local, place-based resources and experiences.”
The difference between a charter school and a public school, Altherr said, is in the approach to meeting state standards. The state would like to see charters be incubators of innovation that contribute to improving educational outcomes for all children.
According to the model for the proposed charter school, “Students will engage in inquiry-based, interdisciplinary learning connected to the real world.” For example, this might take the form of a project about water rights. Students would learn about the laws regulating the distribution of water through acequias, identify an issue, go into the field to collect data and then use math to understand their data. The students would then communicate what they learned perhaps through a newspaper story, art project or public service announcement. This is placed-based is education. Students tackle local issues and learn how to impact the world.
The idea, Altherr said, is to get students more engaged in their education. This means not just instruction on fundamental skills but also critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and collaboration and communication.
“I think by empowering the kids with these skills, they can learn anything they want,” Altherr said.
It is reported in the school’s model that “Students are encouraged to become more self-directed as they acquire skills and deeper learning competencies needed in the 21st century.” It is further stated in the model that “Using design thinking we will learn to embrace challenges, explore new strategies, value input from others, and innovate solutions.”
“Our students are diverse, and our schools should reflect that diversity as well,” committee member Liz Martineau said. “We just want to offer another school option.”
The creation of a charter school is not happening overnight. Martineau said a Notice of Intent will be submitted in January. Afterward, the committee will have six months to work on an application for the school, which is expected to be submitted in June. If everything goes well, the school will open in fall 2019.
Throughout this whole process there will be numerous meetings available to the public.
Martineau and Altherr said they really want to hear from the community about the proposed model.
“Los Alamos as a community is very concerned about education and they’re involved,” Martineau said.
Altherr and Martineau added that they are both excited to begin this process for a new type of school. To the best of their knowledge, there has never been a charter school for middle school students in Los Alamos.
“It’s pretty exciting because this is the first time we have any other option,” Martineau said.
Contact any of the committee members about presentations or to share ideas including Branden Willman-Kozimor, Scott Johnson, Amy Gaunt-Bartlett, Altherr, Martineau and Bill Hargraves. Hargraves, who serves on the Los Alamos Public Schools Board is participating in the committee as a private citizen.