Do you want to know a secret that most people don’t know? Lean in — public schools can be wonderful! One of our local gems is Mandela International Magnet School. Mandela offers an International Baccalaureate program, and IB prepares students using the “learner profile.” The profile emphasizes many attributes essential to navigating a global world, including how to be empathetic communicators and reflective risk-takers. Many schools have avoided closure by community efforts to adopt and support IB programs.

At the start of my daughter’s sixth grade year, the gossip regarding middle schools began to percolate. Parents warned me that middle school in Santa Fe was disastrous. Luckily, I have visited schools nationwide and know these rumors are often unfounded. I also knew how fortunate we were to have an IB program option. I didn’t see Mandela as a safe haven for middle school; I saw it as an amazing opportunity for my child to access a world-recognized curriculum in a public-school setting.

When my daughter got into Mandela, I was thrilled. She was not, however. None of her close friends would be there. I implored her to give it a try, which she did gracefully. After the first day, my husband and I anxiously sat at the dinner table; yet, the child-loathed question, “How was your day at school?” never crossed our lips. Both daughters babbled excitedly. My eldest described two different hands-on experiments she tried in class and she gave us an explanation of ubuntu, “I am because we are.”

As parents, we were elated. Despite the ebullience that evening, I remained cautious. Fortunately, every night that week and the weeks following, my daughter came home with something to share. She would make us try out the brain teasers she learned in math. She recently had the extended family participating in “Head, shoulders, knees and toes,” or “Cabeza, hombros, rodillas, pies ojos;” IB requires that students master a second language, and Mandela offers Spanish and Mandarin.

My mother and father watched the girls the other night, and my mother texted me: “We learn so much from Suzy; she is always teaching us.” Still, I waited for the ball to drop. Middle school girls are notoriously catty. At her last school, my daughter joked about the “latte girls,” who always had Starbucks and who always had an opinion about who was cool. After about a month at Mandela, my husband asked her if there was a “latte” group. She happily responded, “No, kids at Mandela are not like that; everyone is nice to each other.”

I guess the point of my personal story about Mandela is that I am really so fed up with the rhetoric that claims our nation’s public schools are failing. This blanket statement is false. A piece in The Atlantic a few years ago talked about the detriments of this master narrative lumping all of America’s public schools together. So much of a public school’s success is dependent on local community and district support (

With that said, there is much to celebrate regarding our local schools, and I write today to implore Santa Fe voters to vote yes for the school bond question on the ballot this November. Mandela has a world-class curriculum and a dedicated staff, and the school needs financial support to grow. More importantly, Mandela is just one of the many gems within Santa Fe Public Schools. Our dedicated teachers and deserving students should be supported. So, no matter your reason for living in Santa Fe, please vote yes. Remember ubuntu — “I am because we are.”

Rachel Stofocik has worked in education at the local, state and federal levels for over 20 years. She lives in Santa Fe with her husband and two daughters, who both attend fabulous public schools.

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