On a cold evening in January, the Santa Fe Public Schools’ Board of Education gave the Early College Opportunities School proposal a warm reception. After a 5-0 vote to approve the district’s newest high school, director Steve Carrillo said, “It feels like this might be one of the greatest things we’ve ever done. The legacy of this could turn out to be of historic significance.” Thirty students, parents and community partners testified to the value of the new school during a lengthy public forum that brought many of those present to tears.
ECO, the Early College Opportunities Applied Science Magnet School, is ramping up for an August 2016 opening, with students in grades nine, 10 and 11. Early College is a nationally trending model that allows students to pursue certifications and associate degrees while they complete their high school diplomas.
The school will occupy the 25-acre site now known as South Campus or Vo-Tech, between Zia Road and the Arroyo Chamiso, adjacent to Santa Fe High School. The site includes woodshops, automotive shops, welding, construction, greenhouse and aquaponics facilities. In partnership with Santa Fe Community College (SFCC), classrooms and other space at the nearby Higher Education Center (HEC) will also be utilized. Rebecca Estrada, executive director of the HEC, has been key in coordinating SFCC leadership and staff to facilitate alignment between the two institutions.
The genesis of the new school reflects interrelated efforts. Superintendent Joel Boyd and SFCC President Randy Grissom collaborated to advance the school as a critical piece of SFPS’ secondary reform plan and as a way to develop a bridge to SFCC’s world-class Sustainable Technology program and facilities. The idea of a magnet school of sustainability was also pitched to the district multiple times during the last seven years as a result of collaborative efforts on the part of Santa Fe High teachers (including Marcia Barton and Ty Middleton), educational consultants and community partners Paul Gibson, John Graham, Seth Biderman, Kim Shanahan and Kenneth Francis. Lynn Bickley of the Interfaith Coalition, Janet Bailey and Miguel Acosta were also key to helping move the effort along while making sure it has depth and is accessible to all sectors of the community.
The school is an outgrowth of the Academy for Sustainability Education (ASE), a 300-student program of study at Santa Fe High. Tammy Harkins, a dedicated sustainability educator and a guiding force behind ASE, has demonstrated how important rapport, personalization and relevance are to student motivation and achievement. Her ability to employ emotional intelligence, reach deeply into students to tap their hopes and aspirations, and create a joyous community of engaged learners has been a primary factor in launching the new school.
Student Dylan Ramírez says, “I’m moving, along with many other ASE students, into the new ECO School. I have been very lucky to be part of this kind of learning, with its many projects and field trips. My mentorship and all the tools will definitely serve me in the future. This school provides all kinds of green opportunities, like solar power and aquaponics.” Student Irie Charity says, “I’m excited about the challenge of getting college credit and learning serious skills and content through projects. I am a visual and hands-on learner. I want to be in a school where motivated students tackle serious projects that make a difference in the world.” Current ninth-grader Annette Salas Morales said, “I love hands-on learning. I’ve learned so much about solar energy, sustainable agriculture, aquaponics and how important it is to lower our carbon footprint. I look forward to building my own Tiny Home.”
The school has six main goals:
Close the achievement gap
Increase literacy in the intellectual and hands-on aspects of sustainability
Provide free, dual-credit certifications and applied science degrees
Build workforce readiness and create human and practical connections between school, mentors and the world of work
Make the learning community a vital and welcoming center for students, educators, families, business partners and social service providers
Use innovative pedagogy, scheduling and leadership norms to attract and retain world-class educators and partners, and become a national model of what can be done within public school districts