FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Virtual Academy has kicked off its second year with the addition of another grade.

The virtual academy, which serves students statewide, opened last year. It teaches students from sixth to 12th grades in an online environment and operates a learning center in Farmington.

School administrators say they are excited about the success of the first year, and, this year, they have added a 12th-grade class.

The virtual academy's first year was a success, said Ashley Barr, the state director of operations for K12 Inc., which runs the New Mexico Virtual Academy.

"I don't think it could have done much better than it did," Barr said.

Last month, the Farmington Municipal School District's Board of Education tabled the academy's request to add fourth and fifth grades and increase the school's enrollment cap.

But Barr said that decision has not hindered the school.

"It will not affect us because we basically went into the school year just adding on 12th grade this year," Barr said.

The virtual academy is chartered through the Farmington Municipal School District, and the district's board of education approves changes in school operations.

The school had an 82 percent re-registration rate for this school year, said Lydia Todd, regional deputy vice president of K12 Inc., in an Aug. 22 interview. This year, the school has 496 enrolled students and about 434 students on a waitlist.

"It shows they're happy enough, their children are getting what they need and they want to return in coming years," Todd said. "We look at this as a big win. We know that we are doing something right to meet the needs of these families."

Ruth Weaver, a language and fine arts teacher at the New Mexico Virtual Academy, works with a student online on Thursday in Farmington.
Ruth Weaver, a language and fine arts teacher at the New Mexico Virtual Academy, works with a student online on Thursday in Farmington. (Augusta Liddic/The Daily Times)

Todd said the school is contesting the C grade it received in July from the New Mexico Public Education Department as part of the state's A-to-F school assessments.

The point of contention is the participation portion of the assessment. The virtual academy had a 94.4 percent participation rate, and if a school's participation rate falls below 95 percent, that school is dropped a letter grade. Todd said the school submitted several withdrawals before the start of the state testing, but they were not processed in time.

"We had several students that had indicated to us previous to the test they wanted to withdraw," Todd said. "If we can get those withdrawals, which we absolutely submitted on time, we will then make the participation grade and bring us up to a B."

Todd would not specify the number of withdrawals being contested, but she said it would take only one approved withdrawal to meet the 95 percent participation rate.

Virtual academy head administrator Deborah Jackson, who also worked with families and students last year, said the school fills a need in the community.

She said home-schooled students have really taken to the school, especially in the higher grades where subjects can be difficult for parents to teach. About 35 percent of the students at the school were previously home-schooled, and the remaining 65 percent come from public schools.

Jackson said the virtual academy is something families throughout the state have been waiting for.

"I have parents asking me when we can take (kindergarten) and (first-grade) kids," she said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.