Application For Polaris Charter School Submitted To State Public Education Department

64739675_2244857948966405_1873251914590715904_nThe Polaris Charter School team has submitted their application to the New Mexico Public Education Department. Courtesy photo


The application for Polaris Charter School has been submitted to the New Mexico Public Education Department after several years of preparation.

The school’s mission is to engage students in the community, environment, history and culture of Northern New Mexico through personalized hands-on learning experiences that strengthen and support student well-being and intellectual growth. The application lists three objectives: academic growth, social-emotional learning and active citizenship.

The target geographical area for the projected student population includes Los Alamos County as well as the communities of Jemez, Espanola and Pojoaque. The executive summary of the application notes the NMPED grading of middle schools in those communities and says parents wanting to exercise the option to transfer to a better school for their students need another option and that the Polaris can help meet this need.

The applications states that many students in Los Alamos come from families highly educated in STEM fields that hold high academic performance expectations, particularly in sciences and math and that this sets up an experience of inadequacy for students who are intelligent but hold different interests and talents.

“For the past three years, members of the community and Los Alamos Public Schools have been in open dialogue about new educational options for its students. In 2015 a diverse team embarked on a nine-month journey to reimagine our high school and win a $10 million grant from the XQ Foundation. While we did not win the award, we were a top applicant. A key to the team’s success was its ability to engage the community, students, and staff in conversations about reimagining high school. It is estimated that a thousand people attended at least one event over the nine-month period,” the application states.

In 2017, as an outgrowth of the XQ project, the Polaris Charter School team was established. At a public launch event attended by some 120 people of whom 69 percent felt it was important for Los Alamos to have another middle school option. The application indicates that the number one reason given for a family to choose a different option for their child was “more engaging methods of instructions”.

The application says Polaris Charter School will improve Los Alamos Public Schools by “providing a new learning model for students based on current research into understanding the developmental needs and function of the adolescent brain”. It says all components of the school’s program (student choice, self-awareness, peer connections, affective learning, metacognition, and real-world experiences) were carefully chosen to support the brain-friendly practices recommended by Thomas Armstrong  and brain-based learning.

  • Use competency-based instruction and formative assessment as tools to develop a growth mindset and focus on student learning.
  • Integrate restorative practices, an approach to justice that involves the victim, offender, and community members, provides a real-time opportunity to solve problems by proactively building a sense of empathy and social connection, into the school.
  • Ground curriculum in authentic place-based experiences to actively engage each student in learning that is culturally relevant and connected to the local community.
  • Offer studio electives around student passions.

LAPS board member Bill Hargraves is a founding member of the Polaris team and a proposed governing board member of the proposed school. He got involved in the XQ Project and went through the process with the community, especially with the engagement of students and alumni. He believes that regardless of how good the Los Alamos Public Schools are, there are young people who need something different.

“What I am excited about is both the mission and the expected outcome of the proposed school. The expectation in terms of academics will not be any lower but the reason we believe we can do this, is that we will be creating a different kind of learning that is place-based,” Hargraves said. “Learning will be hands on with more field trips, more involvement in the community and more time outdoors.”

The next step in the process will be a capacity interview with PED July 9 to understand whether the proposed team has the leadership, financial ability and governance requirements to establish the school. A public hearing will be scheduled in July. If the school is approved, there will be a planning year and a search for a facility to house the school. If approved, the plan is to open the school in August 2020, Hargraves said.

“The founding team and members of the community have done an amazing amount of work on this project. Their commitment of time has been truly extraordinary,” Hargraves said. “ I want to especially thank the folks that may be the governing board for taking on an endeavor that hasn’t been taken on before.”

Other members of the founding team and proposed governing members are: Elizabeth Martineau, Branden Willman-Kozimor, Amy Bartlett Gaunt, Scott Johnson, Robert Gibson, Jane Clements, Ken Holmes and Christine Bernstein.