After school closures resurfaced on the Santa Fe school board agenda in the fall, Superintendent Veronica García said Tuesday she has started researching alternative ways to improve equity across the district.
“This is a great opportunity for the Santa Fe Public Schools to be entrepreneurial in every sense of the word,” García said. “As as we look at our fiscal resources and potential joint use of facilities and how can we generate revenue for the revenue that we’re losing, we can be socially entrepreneurial and entrepreneurs of ideas.”
In November, Maureen Cashmon, who did not run for reelection and is no longer on the board, and Lorraine Price, who is still on the board, voted in favor of closing Acequia Madre, E.J. Martinez and Nava elementary schools. After that motion failed 3-2, the board passed a resolution that directed García to instead study aging facilities, declining enrollment, transfers, zoning policies and alternative curriculums to address inequity.
García said she will present her plan for how to study equity at the school board’s Feb. 18 meeting.
“How do we address equity? How do we address underenrollment? How do we address aging facilities? How can we look at this in a creative and entrepreneurial way?” García said. “My job is to come up with a framework for how to approach this work.”
To attract more students to the district, García mentioned specialized magnet schools before hypothesizing about a school sharing space with a business with a similar focus, such as computer science or music. Enrollment at Santa Fe Public Schools has decreased by more than 1,000 students in the past five years, dropping to 13,286 in 2018-19 from 14,473 in 2013-14, and the decline hasn’t been even across the city.
According to district data, five elementary schools east of St. Francis Drive — Atalaya, Carlos Gilbert, Acequia Madre, Wood Gormley and E.J. Martinez — draw a combined 724 students from their home school zones, relying heavily on transfer students to fill classroom seats. Meanwhile, five elementary schools southwest of St. Francis — César Chávez, Ramirez Thomas, Sweeney, Amy Biehl and Kearny — draw a total of 1,899 students from their home school zones, and at least 81 percent of the students who attend each school live in the school zone.
As Santa Fe’s school-age population has shifted, south-side Ortiz Middle School teacher Carl Krings said Tuesday, resources haven’t always followed. His school started the academic year with seven vacancies for full-time teachers and still has five.
“I have a current class load of 134 students. This is true of just about every teacher at Ortiz. Is this equity?” Krings asked the board before also noting that the average class load at the district’s other middle school, Milagro, is around 80 students.
“Change must happen in the way teacher-student ratios are calculated and teachers are assigned to schools,” Krings said.
García mentioned that she has been calling retired teachers to ask if they could help fills gaps at Ortiz and elsewhere in the short term.
For the long term, two new board members — Sarah Boses, an oncology nurse who replaces Cashmon, and Carmen Gonzales, a former vice president at Santa Fe Community College who defeated incumbent Steven Carrillo — were sworn in Tuesday night.
“It’s not easy. I’ve been told by other local officials this is one of the hardest local elected jobs,” board President Kate Noble said. “But here we all are. We have a minimum of two years to work together and a real opportunity to really reinvent and do something profound.”