Broken Promise? Charter school leaves International District after one year

On Special Assignment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Neighbors were excited by the idea of a new charter school opening in a part of Albuquerque that needed it. However, after getting community donations and state money, the school moved to a wealthier neighborhood miles away.

“A lot of people are still hurt by this,” Tony Johnson said.

The idea was to open a public charter school in the International District, giving low-income and minority students a new educational option. The school founders rallied support from the community before getting approval and funding from the state.

(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Then, after just one school year, they packed up and left. Altura Preparatory School moved from a strip mall near San Pedro and Kathryn to a space in the Northeast Heights. “That’s unacceptable. We tried to support that school as much as possible,” Johnson said.

Johnson volunteers and works in the Southeast Albuquerque neighborhood where the school was originally located. Johnson said he thought Altura Preparatory School would be a bright spot in an area challenged by poverty and crime.

“It was something different in the community,” he said. “You know, it’s not just like opening a liquor store or another smoke shop. This was something that was gonna come in and enhance our children.”

Lissa Hines and Meaghan Hindman are the co-founders and directors of Altura Preparatory School. In 2017, they sought approval from the New Mexico Public Education Commission to start the state-authorized charter school.

Co-Directors Lissa Hines and Meaghan Hindman interviewed with KRQE News 13 in July of 2018 before Altura Preparatory School opened for its first school year.

“The applicant indicated that they would be locating in the International District, and they would be the only primary school of choice in the area,” Commission Chair Patricia Gipson said.

That’s the first thing they pointed to when asked what would set them apart from the dozens of charter schools already in Albuquerque, according to meeting transcripts. “We think all kids should be able to live near a school that does what they need it to do for them, and that they can get to easily,” Hindman told the Commission in 2017.

Their application described efforts to build trust with people in the International District.

“The school presented itself as more of that community school and servicing the community, which goes beyond just the instructional hours,” Gipson explained.

But things didn’t exactly go according to plan.

“Were they good community partners?” KRQE asked.

“In that respect, no.”

Altura Prep gained overwhelming support from the International District. One resident, excited about the addition to the neighborhood, donated $5,000.

Construction was underway in July 2018 for Altura Preparatory School to open in the International District.

The landlord of the property near Wilson Park invested $500,000 to fix it up for the new school. Then, despite a five-year lease, Altura Preparatory School moved last summer after just one school year there.

“It’s public monies, as well, so if there’s a compensation that has to be made as a result of a breakage of a lease, we have to be good stewards of public money,” Gipson said.

Gipson said it resulted in an $18,000 settlement to the landlord. The donor of the $5,000, told KRQE they were so disappointed the school moved to a “wealthy community” that they asked for the money back. The school agreed.

“It’s a disservice to our community,” Johnson said.

From the school’s original location, it can take anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes to drive up to the Northeast Heights near Alameda and Wyoming. That is where you will find Altura Preparatory School’s new neighborhood.

It is something the directors, Hindman and Hines, would not talk about on camera. They sent an email in response to multiple interview requests.

To answer your question for information about why the school moved, due to the School’s growth needs, it did change locations. Only one property, a former charter school, checked all the boxes, so we made the move beginning with the 2019-20 school year. We gave our families plenty of notice regarding the move. Also, because our new location would create transportation issues for some families, we provide transportation for all of our students at no cost.

Meaghan Hindman, Altura Preparatory School Co-Director

One parent, who told KRQE she is from the International District, said she is happy the school moved because the area is safer. So, is the school still making an impact in Southeast Albuquerque? The school’s directors would not say. They ignored the question over again when KRQE asked how many students from the International District are enrolled at Altura.

As the emailed statement mentioned, the school does have a bus for students in the International District. KRQE checked it out and saw about eight students use it on one afternoon last week. That is out of the 90 students enrolled at the school, according to the state’s online charter school directory.

“There was concern that they used the system to their advantage,” Johnson said. “If they got the funding from the state for a charter school to be in that area and they decide to leave, why should the funding go with them?”

When the school told the state about its move last summer, the Public Education Commission Chair said, “So I think it was a — without a doubt, it’s a broken promise.”     

When we spoke to her last week, she called it, “unfortunate.”

“But, at the end of the day, there is nothing that we can legally do to stop the move,” Gipson said. “We don’t have any legal authority to do that.”

Gipson said, legally, the school can move anywhere within Albuquerque school district boundaries, and the Commission can’t do a thing about it unless it poses health or safety concerns.

Map of Charter Schools in Albuquerque

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