Early college high school awarded planning grant

Joshua Kellogg The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A proposed early college high school in San Juan County has taken another step forward after the state education department approved a $349,000 grant to continue developing the school for a fall 2016 opening.

Representatives from San Juan College, along with officials from the Aztec, Bloomfield and Farmington school districts who make up the Four Corners Educational Council for Student Success, visited during a reception Tuesday night before the San Juan College Board meeting held in the Educational Services Center building.

College President Toni Pendergrass welcomed the crowd and spoke about the grant before introducing the superintendents from each school district.

"This planning grant will provide students in our community, our youth, with an amazing opportunity," Pendergrass said.

The council, which is the entity through which the proposed school is being organized, was awarded $349,000 from the New Mexico Public Education Department to pay for staff, equipment and operation expenses to develop the high school. The funding will help pay for four positions — a principal, counselor, San Juan College liaison and an administrative assistant.

Farmington Superintendent Gene Schmidt has been involved in establishing the Los Alamos Early College and Career Academy in Los Alamos and an early college high school in Bridgeport, Wash.

He said he was excited about the learning and career opportunities an early college high school can provide.

The proposed school would allow students to earn a high school diploma and two years of college credit in four years. The student body would be comprised of economically disadvantaged students and students who are the first in their family to attend college.

"Sometimes (students) have the perception they can't afford to go to college, and they don't get this opportunity in their lives," Bloomfield Superintendent Kim Mizell said. "The real initiative is to let them know this is hope and opportunity for them."

Students could earn an associate degree, a certification or transfer to another college or university to work on a earning a bachelor's degree.

The school plans to accept 40 freshmen its first year and each following year, reaching an enrollment of 160 students in ninth through 12th grades.

The next step will be to hire the staff and start addressing many of the topics to be finalized, including how the new school would operate in conjunction with the three districts and how transportation would be arranged.

Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said the college and three school districts are committed to the school, which will establish an important relationship with the community.

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.