A new generation of homegrown scientists. With all the brainiac scientists supposedly doing brilliant work over at Sandia Labs, it only made sense to Mayor Marty Chavez that Albuquerque Public Schools somehow build a conduit to all that higher intelligence. So more than 18 months ago, Chavez and the presidents of UNM and New Mexico Tech met with Paul Robinson, Sandia Labs' president, Joey Vigil, the superintendent of Albuquerque Public Schools at the time and local business executives to hatch a plan for a new high-tech high school. It would be a public school where local students with a knack for math and science could refine their skills and carve a career path that might some day boost the local economy.
The idea had two ultimate goals behind it. One, with a school dedicated to producing high-level math and science graduates to fill the workforce needs of our nation's still emerging high-tech economy, out-of-state companies would be attracted to the area. In other words, such a school would assuage concerns companies might have over Albuquerque's long-standing reputation as a city with an underachieving public school system. Politicians don't exactly express their concerns this way, but they often talk about the need to improve our public schools in order to be competitive with other states, which is a similar, gentler way of looking at it.
The second goal is a more modern way of thinking that has taken nearly half a century to take hold in Albuquerque. "I want to grow our own scientists," said the mayor last week. "This is a place where students with a strong background in math and science can find a good job." New technology combined with a well-trained and highly intelligent local workforce is "important to our economic base," the mayor added. In other words, building a high-tech charter high school in Albuquerque might be a successful way to encourage the smart kids to stick around after graduation, whether from high school or UNM.
And after months of delays, the Albuquerque Public Schools' board of directors approved the new charter school proposal last week.
"Was this going to be a school run by the mayor and the city?— That's the concern we had," said Robert Lucero, an APS school board member. "It was the entire board's concern." Lucero added that he supported the idea wholeheartedly, but the board simply needed more information before lending its support.
Now that political wrangling is over, "the city at this point steps out," Mayor Chavez said. That is, city government will not be responsible for the administration of the school. Still, the mayor will continue offering his input. For starters, he suggested three areas of the city that would be a suitable location.
"I want a place that has a nexus with Albuquerque's technology base," Chavez said, listing the building across from TVI on University Boulevard that presently serves, at least in theory, as an incubator for new high-tech startup companies. The Sandia Science and Technology Park near Eubank and the gates to Sandia Labs was another possibility. And third: At San Pedro and Central, near the site where Microsoft was founded.
"I like the historical connection with Microsoft," Chavez said. Microsoft co-founder and multi-billionaire Paul Allen recently owns the property, although he hasn't announced his intentions for developing it.
"We expect something like a legacy project," said Chavez, "like a museum for Microsoft."
The new math, science and technology charter school expects to open in 2005, beginning with a ninth grade class. The school will include all four secondary grades by 2008. At this point, a board of directors does not exist.