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FARMINGTON – Farmington Municipal School District administrators are working on creating a new family school program through which home-schooled students split their time between a district classroom and home instruction.

The program could help stabilize declining enrollment for the district as it faces a potential loss of student funding for the upcoming school year.

Superintendent Gene Schmidt said the program is an educational partnership with families through which students will spend 15 and a half hours a week in a classroom at a district school and 15 hours of instruction being taught by parents at home.

Schmidt presented the proposal to the Board of Education during its Jan. 14 work session.

He told board members he hopes to implement the first phase of the project in August for the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

The district enrollment count for the 80th school day showed a decline of 129 students from 11,070 in the 2014-2015 school year to 10,941 for the 2015-2016 school year.

“When you lose a 100 kids, that’s a million-plus dollars,” Schmidt said. “We need to look at other educational models that would help us bring kids back into the school system.”

According to Schmidt, the New Mexico Public Education Department said in 2012 there were 184 students in the Farmington school district who were home schooled.

In the proposed family school program, classroom time would focus on English, language arts and math with an emphasis on project-based learning.

Parents would be responsible for teaching and keeping lesson plans of instruction in subjects taught at home, including science, social studies and extracurricular activities like music and physical education.

Schmidt said that style of education is guided by teachers, with students learning a certain amount of information from instruction, then focusing on individual or group projects to foster their own learning.

“The project might begin in the classroom, then it is extended to the home,” Assistant Superintendent Phil Valdez said. “The parents take on the responsibility of providing that same type of instruction and guidance to their students in their own home.”

It was a group of parents who met with Schmidt that prompted him to investigate the program. Amanda Ramirez was one of three parents at the Nov. 30, 2015, meeting, along with Amber Smith and Gretchen Hilton.

Ramirez said she is interested in enrolling her son Jayden Ramirez in another family school program after moving from Albuquerque. Her son was previously enrolled at the Desert Willow Family School in Albuquerque. Desert Willow is a kindergarten through eighth-grade family school program operated by Albuquerque Public Schools.

‘I just wanted (Schmidt) to understand (Desert Willow) was a great coupling of public school and home school,” Ramirez said. “It allows families to be more involved in their child’s education.”

The district hosted a meeting on Jan. 13 about the family school program. It was attended by 20 parents who expressed a desire to enroll their children in the proposed program, according to Schmidt.

Ramirez said she enjoys being a part of her child’s educational journey and is proud of the growth her son showed at Desert Willow.

“He made a lot of progress during that time,” Ramirez said. “There was a lot of one-on-one instruction.”

The number of commitments the district receives from parents will determine which grades are included in the program and the size of the classrooms, Schmidt said. Depending on enrollment, one classroom might feature multiple grades like kindergarten through second grade, and another classroom might include students in third through fifth grade.

Schmidt said a number of decisions will need to be finalized before a final proposal is brought to the board members to vote on, which might happen in April.

Those decisions include a location for the program, what the curriculum looks like and finding a teacher or teachers for classroom instruction.

The district is hosting another meeting at 9 a.m. on Feb. 18 at the district conference room located at 1400b E. 20th St. to further discuss the family school project with interested parents.

More information on the development of the family school project can be found on a Facebook page created by parents at bit.ly/familyschool.

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

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