Poor Nava Elementary School.
Always on everybody’s chopping block, it gets no respect. Built in 1969 and named for Santa Fe’s first casualty of the Vietnam War, Francis X. Nava, its structure remains largely the same as it has since it was built, though Santa Fe Public Schools says the school has had millions in recent maintenance (flooring, carpet, playgrounds, roofing and more).
Still, it’s not as flashy as, say, Atalaya Elementary School on Santa Fe’s east side, which had $14 million invested in a remodel in 2014.
To me, there’s an equity problem. Full disclosure: My son went to Atalaya in fifth and sixth grades after attending Gonzales Community School. We applied and were accepted, and his mom took him and picked him up every day for two years. We loved the school, and so did he. But we were privileged to have the ability to accommodate the pickup and drop-off, as was virtually every family whose kids attended. The morning drop-off line was epic, and it was very rare to see a kid walking in from the neighborhood.
East-side neighborhood schools are sustained, at least in part, by Santa Feans with the ability to pick up and drop off kids. Those kids live in neighborhoods where parents have decided their in-district school doesn’t meet their standards — like Nava.
A few years back I was appointed by the late school board member Susan Duncan to serve on Santa Fe Public Schools’ Citizen Review Committee, a group convened to advise the school board on how they should spend bond money for capital improvements.
There’s never enough money to cover identified needs. Previous members of the committee had been led by a coterie of Atalaya parents. They prevailed for their kids, and the money was appropriated. It was before my time. Most resigned after they got their money.
What was shocking was the disconnect between school planners and city planners. At the time, I also was serving on the city’s Long-Range Planning Committee, a subset of the Planning Commission. There was no communication, although both were directed to anticipate city growth patterns.
What separates Nava Elementary from its east-side counterparts is this: It is poised for a revival. More than any other school in the district, Nava is about to go through huge demographic shifts within walking distance to the school, thanks in large part to what will happen to Santa Fe housing once the midtown campus is developed.
Recently, The New Mexican had a bittersweet story about a group of 80-somethings who were finally moving out of their Camino Chueco neighborhood after nearly 50 years. They had been some of the first in the brand-new subdivision when it was developed. All their kids had walked to school at Nava in the ’70s and ’80s, not unlike what happened at east-side schools decades before then.
A week before that feature story, I attended a birthday party for a 3-year-old with millennial parents also living on Camino Chueco in a house their parents had helped them buy a couple of years ago. That shift from 80-somethings to 30-somethings is a historic pattern in some Santa Fe neighborhoods. It happened 40 years ago in Casa Solana, 20 years ago in Barrio la Cañada, and now it’s happening south of Siringo.
Transitions of some older neighborhoods are predictable, inevitable and should be enough to keep Nava open with an overdue influx of rehabilitation money from the next bond cycle. Add kids from 2,000 multifamily apartments likely coming to the midtown campus area adjacent to Nava, and it’s a no-brainer.
Kim Shanahan is a longtime Santa Fe builder and former executive officer of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association.