Turquoise Trail Charter Elementary School’s battle to stay on its current site — one that has it on a collision course with Santa Fe Public Schools — hasn’t kept school leaders from pursuing expansion.

The state charter school’s leaders plan to add seventh and eighth grades in August by opening a second campus, one incorporating media and film studies, at the nearby Santa Fe Studios complex just two miles north of the school off N.M. 14.

“Our plan is to provide Santa Fe with something totally different — a small, academically oriented media-arts program to partner and cooperate with the film industry at the movie studio,” said the school’s principal, Ray Griffin.

He added that the school eventually wants to open up an second campus, perhaps in Española.

In the interim, the August expansion for Turquoise Trail, which currently serves students from pre-K to the sixth grade, will cost at least $250,000, Griffin said. The move will be funded by the state’s per-pupil funding formula and a grant from Excellent Schools New Mexico, a new nonprofit that wants to replicate the models of successful charter schools in the state.

Griffin said he is applying for financial support from a new, $22.5 million Public Education Department charter school fund to launch new charters and expand some others.

Over the next few years, he said, the school will move its sixth-graders into the new middle school campus at the studios, freeing up space at the current facility located on the south side of town off N.M. 14.

The move comes as Turquoise Trail, which opened in the early 1990s as a traditional public school before it converted to a district-, and later, state-chartered entity, remains embroiled in a conflict with Santa Fe Public Schools over the issue of the future of its main campus.

The district wants to reclaim the Turquoise Trail property, which it owns and leases to the charter school, to help ease crowding in schools on Santa Fe’s south side as the city’s population continues to shift in that direction. The school board informed Turquoise Trail in January that it would not renew the building lease after the agreement expires in 2021.

But the board of education said it would work to find Turquoise Trail another appropriate space in town by that time and has included Turquoise Trail in its new facilities master plan, which looks at the structural and enrollment strength of all of its buildings and the potential for growth, renovation or even closure.

Griffin and other school leaders say they have no intention of leaving their current site and that the matter may end up in court.

“We are set on staying here,” Griffin said.

Once the sixth-graders are moved to the new campus, that will open more seats in the main campus, Griffin said, noting the school has the right to add portable classrooms on that campus, which some of the south-side district schools cannot do.

As a result, Turquoise Trail could take another 100 to 150 students over the next few years, though charter school law requires students to enter a lottery to gain admittance, which means not all students would be guaranteed a space.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García declined to comment Monday, saying she has not yet received a recommendation from the facilities master plan committee on what to do about Turquoise Trail.

Octavio Marin, operations director for Santa Fe Studios, said it’s likely the children will be housed in four former production-company portables that have been updated and renovated as Western-style bungalows in an area outside of the main studio building known as The Pueblo. The buildings feature a Western-film style theme and are surrounded by prop rocks, sagebrush and even part of the mine set from the Netflix miniseries Godless, which was shot and set in New Mexico.

He said the program could give middle schoolers a sense of the job opportunities in the film business in New Mexico. Ideally, visiting directors and producers using the studios for a production shoot would visit classrooms to talk to the kids, and the students could in turn visit working sets when appropriate, he said.

Scott Hindman, executive director of Excellent Schools New Mexico in Albuquerque, said in an email that the group supports schools that show “strong community demand and get great results for students. So we are providing a grant to Turquoise Trail to help them get their middle school facility ready for the fall.”

He said Excellent Schools New Mexico is still working to determine how much it will grant Turquoise Trail to expand to the Santa Fe Studios complex.

Hindman first introduced Excellent Schools New Mexico and its replication plans to the Legislative Education Study Committee in the summer of 2016. At that time he said, “We want to grow what is working here, we want to grow high-quality schools.”

The plan would entail finding private startup money to help successful charter schools start a second school with a separate governing board, leaders and educators but with the same mission.

Some Democratic legislators on that committee voiced concern that the nonprofit is actually a for-profit with ties to firms that privatize public education — a charge that Hindman denied.

There is no current state statute regarding charter school replication, a point that has confused lawmakers and educators when it comes to addressing the issue.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com

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