The Academy for Technology and the Classics is rated one of New Mexico’s highest-performing schools, with math and reading scores double state averages. U.S. News & World Report ranks it No. 86 on a listing of best charter schools in the country.

That success, officials and students say, was achieved despite cramped classrooms and the without the features commonly seen on most other school campuses.

“We always say we’re a scrappy little school that does a whole lot with not much,” said Principal Susan Lumley. “That’s been our motto.”

Starting this fall, there’s a lot more to admire. With more than $6.5 million in funding approved by Santa Fe voters in a February 2017 general obligation bond election, a music classroom, cafeteria, science labs and gymnasium have been constructed to give some bricks-and-mortar brawn to match ATC’s brains.

“It definitely makes it feel more of a high school, like a real school, like we’re not just making due with what we have,” said junior Amea Lombardo. “We have an actual space that’s meant for us.”

ATC, which enrolls around 330 students in grades 7-12,was one of the the state’s first charter schools when it was founded in 2000. Classes were held in portables by the Genoveva Chavez Community Center before the school moved in 2006 to its current location south of Interstate 25 and across the street from the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Lumley said the recent renovation began in August 2018 and was completed in time for the beginning of the 2019-20 school year. The school will hold an open house to show off its new look from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at 74 A Van Nu Po Road, and the public is invited.

Perhaps nobody is as excited about the upgrades as music teacher Eric Carlson, whose new classroom has space for a half-dozen marimbas, a soundproof practice room and a spacious storage closet.

“When I’m not tripping over things, and when kids aren’t tripping over things, it’s comfortable. And when you’re comfortable, you can learn, and as a teacher, I’m so much more patient,” said Carlson, who is in his 10th year at the school. “Our old storage unit was a single bathroom stall.”

ATC, which is chartered by Santa Fe Public Schools, requires every student to take at least five Advanced Placement classes in order to graduate. Lumley said three new science labs will allow the school to add AP chemistry to its offerings as well as create an engineering career pathway for students looking to stick with math and science in college.

When it comes to the new wing though, students are happier about the natural light, air conditioning and locker rooms complete with showers.

“I do cross-country, and I run in the mornings. It’s so wonderful we have a shower now,” said senior Odin Frostad. “I can come to school and not smell like crap all day. It’s so so nice.”

The school’s basketball teams also appreciate the new locker rooms and gym. In years past, they held early morning practices at nearby Nina Otero Community School.

“We would wake up at 5:45 a.m. and just hope somebody would be there to unlock the door,” said senior Milan Lombardo. “Now we actually have a place that’s our own. A school culture can develop here now.”

Before this school year, ATC held schoolwide assemblies on a blacktop behind the school. Lumley said she would get on a portable stage with a microphone to address the student body. But when classes began this year, the first schoolwide pep rally was held in the new gymnasium.

“We didn’t have a place to meet as a school other than outdoors. We would be in the sun, and the rain and the cold,” Lumley said. “Just to have a gathering space that can fit everybody, that means a lot to our close community.”

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