The New Mexico Public Education Commission on Friday unanimously approved the application for Thrive Community School, a K-8 charter school co-founded by current and former Santa Fe Public Schools educators.
The STEM-oriented school will emphasize social-emotional learning and professional development for staff.
“I’m thinking that in the next five years or maybe less, we’re going to have another one of the top five charter schools in the state of New Mexico with this school joining,” said Commissioner Steven Carrillo of Santa Fe.
In September, Thrive will enter a planning year and its leaders will need to complete a series of mandatory meetings. In June 2022, the commission will vote on whether the school can open that fall.
If approved, Thrive will begin receiving state equalization guarantee funds, Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said.
The school’s four co-founders include prospective director Sean Duncan, a school psychologist who has worked in Santa Fe Public Schools as a reading specialist; former Santa Fe Public Schools Special Education Director Julie Lucero, who retired this spring; former Nina Otero Community School Principal Angelia Moore; and current Ortiz Middle School teacher Amy Chacon.
In a phone interview, Duncan said the application’s approval came down to the amount of community support the school received.
The board heard testimony from numerous members of the public, nonprofit leaders and educators in support of approving the school’s application.
“While there’s a lot of conversation about community schools, this in my opinion exemplifies it,” said Louise Yakey, executive director of local education nonprofit Mentoring Kids Works New Mexico.
The nonprofit was one of a handful represented Friday that will likely work with Thrive to provide services during the 2022-23 school year.
During Friday’s meeting, Duncan addressed previous concerns presented by Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez that Thrive would steepen the district’s enrollment decline.
The school’s application said it intends to cater to students on the city’s south side. Thrive, if approved for operations next June, would eventually have a capacity of more than 600 students.
“We recognize that Santa Fe Superintendent Chavez has expressed concerns about Santa Fe Public Schools enrollment,” Duncan said. “However, the primary concern that has been expressed to our team throughout our outreach process is that families of students who are enrolled in Southside schools are currently experiencing overcrowding.”
He said his team is “ready to work with” the district to help ease crowding.
Duncan said the former Desert Academy campus off Old Santa Fe Trail is an initial site possibility for the school. He added that leaders are in conversation with local housing nonprofit Homewise about identifying a south side location for constructing a new facility.
“Until they open their doors, we really don’t know where these students really come from,” Chavez said in a phone interview following Thrive’s application approval.
Carrillo and Public Education Commission chairwoman Patricia Gipson of Las Cruces said it seemed students were being viewed as a commodity when it came to concerns over enrollment loss in traditional public schools.
Commissioner Michael Chavez of Deming said he felt conflicted on the charter school’s proposal, raising concerns about how approving the application might impact children within Santa Fe Public Schools.
He expressed disappointment that no one from the district was present to speak at the meeting.
“You know there is a financial piece to running a school, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a charter school or traditional school district,” Michael Chavez said. “I am concerned with the possible impact that this would have on Santa Fe Public Schools.”
He noted that a new charter school could also pull teachers away from Santa Fe Public Schools.
“We have to think about all kids when it comes to this,” he added.
Corina Chavez, who oversees the state’s Options for Parents and Families bureau, recommended the school for approval. She said during the meeting the school’s organizational plan will need some reworking to meet state criteria.
“Otherwise, the school had really excellent meetings and as so many people in the community that have come to speak before you have articulated, the school does present a very unique approach to educating students at a time when I would say that it is necessary,” she said.