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Middle College High School on shaky ground with district

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GMCS opting to make McKinley Academy STUDENTS alt choice

An April 30 letter from Gallup-McKinley County Public Schools Superintendent Mike Hyatt has sparked debate on the possible revocation of a 16-year-old charter school that was the first early college high school in the state.

Middle College High School was first opened in 2002, offering students educational opportunities to earn their high school diploma while simultaneously earning college credits at UNM-Gallup Branch.

The letter was addressed to parents and students of MCHS and states that the school district has received questions from parents regarding the possible revocation of MCHS.

“The questions thus far are: What options does my student have to continue their early college program? Even though the McKinley Academy application deadline has passed, can students still apply?” stated Hyatt in the letter.

An open invitation without the need to apply to McKinley Academy was extended to families in the letter, including contact information for two staff members from the acdemy.

Sharlene Platero has twins enrolled at MCHS and said she is “very disturbed about the letter that was sent out by Mr. Hyatt.”

She said the school has a 92 percent graduation rate and has a student body that is 40 percent Native American.

Platero said aside from the letter, the school district has made no official contact with the school or parents on why the revocation was proposed.

“My children came from Rehoboth and I’m a product of Rehoboth, too. I just felt that my children needed to be more challenged academically,” she said of her decision to enroll her kids at MCHS.

The pressure from parents on the school administrators grew once the news became public knowledge.

Dr. Robert Hunter, CEO of MCHS, said the school was inundated with calls from angry parents after the letter was sent out by the school district.

“That letter worried us, it got our families upset,” he said.

Parents began rallying to fight the revocation and convened to discuss the problem.

“I guess some of them even decided to go to the media,” Hunter said.

MCHS offers high school students the chance to earn an associate’s degree or complete much of their first two years of college while earning a high school diploma.

“There are at least two dozen of these types of schools,” Hunter said.

Besides the motivated students focused on attaining an advantage on their collegiate career, MCHS is also a school of choice for other students.

“We serve a very broad range of students,” Hunter said. “We also get students who just don’t fit into the regular high school setting. We are a place where they don’t have to worry about (fitting in with) all the social cliques and things like that.”

The school district has identified serious legal issues with regard to the open meetings act as the primary reason why revocation was considered.

“There’s some serious issues that the school district has discovered with respect to Middle College as of late,” Hyatt said.

The superintendent noted that in addition to open meetings violations, the CEO of MCHS is making decisions unilaterally without the school board’s consent.

An effort to increase the school enrollment by 20 students was decided by the CEO and brought before the district school board twice, Hyatt said.

“Those items were never approved by the school board to increase their enrollment. It was only done by Mr. Hunter according to their board minutes,” he said.

“In addition, when they tried to renew their contract with the school district starting July 1, 2018, again, he did not go before his board to approve this item.”

Another concern from the school district is MCHS’ grade from the state, which has dropped from an A to a low C over the past two years, Hyatt said, adding that claims by the school ranking themselves as 12th in the state is misleading.

MCHS offers a link to this statistic from Niche, an online platform helping parents discover schools and neighborhoods that fit their plans. Niche ranked MCHS as New Mexico’s 12th best high school, and 7th among charter schools.

Their data sources for information include the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core Data, Private School Universe Survey, parent surveys and others.

“(MCHS) performance is dropping in the state of New Mexico. Their performance is sub-par, they rank 106 out 215 schools. That’s all public information,” Hyatt said, referring to the N.M. Public Education Department district report card.

The district report card reported 54 percent reading proficiency, 19 percent mathematics proficiency and 58 percent science proficiency for MCHS.

“There have been a lot of rumors regarding this situation regarding the county and one of its charters. I appreciate those that sought out both sides of the story so they can make an objective opinion,” he said.

As for funding formulas, Hyatt said MCHS receives $12,500 per student. Other schools in the district receive about $7,500 per student.

By Rick Abasta
Sun Correspondent

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