Online charter school renewal OKd with conditions

Two-year charter renewal for New Mexico Virtual Academy includes 26 conditions

Joshua Kellogg

FARMINGTON — The Farmington school board has approved a two-year charter renewal with the New Mexico Virtual Academy under conditions that include the online charter school eventually leaving the school district.

Virtual Academy Head School Director Carla Morlas, left, staff member Rebecca Heilman and student Jordan Patterson listen during a Dec. 16 Farmington school board meeting about the future of the school.

The Farmington Municipal School District Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the two-year charter renewal for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years during its meeting tonight.

The motion recommended by Superintendent Gene Schmidt and approved by the board members is contingent on the NMVA Governing Council also approving the charter renewal during a special meeting Friday.

After the meeting, Schmidt said he believes both parties are trying to do what is best for the students and school staff.

He added the agreement helps build a framework for future contract negotiations to specify the responsibilities and duties of the online charter school and Farmington schools.

"We want Virtual Academy to succeed," Schmidt said after the meeting. "I think there is a place in this world for virtual learning."

The online charter school opened in 2012 and has an enrollment cap of 500 students in sixth through 12th grades.

The Farmington board members voted to deny the reauthorization of the charter for NMVA during a special meeting on Dec. 16. During that meeting, Schmidt recommended denying the reauthorization due to NMVA's poor performance in multiple areas, including academic and financial operations.

The NMVA Governing Council followed by approving a resolution to start the process to appeal the denial during a special Jan. 3 meeting.

Board Vice President Mike Isaacson asked Schmidt during tonight's meeting how the conditions for charter renewal were developed since the Dec. 16 meeting.

Schmidt replied that attorneys representing Farmington schools and NMVA have been exchanging drafts of the proposed 26 conditions for charter renewal in recent weeks.

Farmington school board President Kyle Rhodes speaks during a Dec. 16 board meeting dealing with the New Mexico Virtual Academy.

One of the conditions for the charter renewal focuses on NMVA finding another school district to hold its charter after the 2018-2019 school year or pursuing a charter authorization through the state, according to a copy of the conditions obtained by The Daily Times.

The New Mexico Public Education Commission is the state agency that approves charter schools.

When asked about that condition, Schmidt said after the meeting that the two-year renewal will give the online charter school time to demonstrate it can improve the quality of student instruction.

He added he believes a district charter school should be full of local students, and the virtual academy has attracted students statewide, indicating it's more of a state-authorized charter school.

Some of the conditions in the contract renewal focus on improving student achievement and improving oversight by Farmington schools.

The online charter school must earn a three-year average school grade of C or better from the New Mexico Public Education Department for the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 school years to remain open. NMVA received a D letter grade for the 2015-2016 school year, a C grade for the 2014-2015 school year and a B grade for the 2013-2014 school year, according to state education data.

The online charter school would present a written formal annual report to Farmington schools and develop a strategic plan to address student performance and graduation rates, and support students in credit-recovery.

Farmington schools would also review all NMVA policies and procedures to make sure they are current and comply with state law.

If the members of the NMVA Governing Council approve the charter renewal with conditions, both parties will enter into contract negotiations to further develop the agreement.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.