Day 18 By the Numbers: 

  • 120 miles traveled
  • 1 Charter Visited 
  • 1 "A" School Celebrated

During our day within Albuquerque Public schools last week, we had the chance to stop by one of the state-authorized charter schools that we had not yet visited.  This one was special, though, because it’s the highest-performing school in the state.  And the word is out that student performance and outcomes matter: AIMS (Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science) has over 1,500 students and families on its waiting list.  For a 21st century school that was actually founded in the 21st century, it’s climb to the top has been nothing short of remarkable.  Here’s what we noticed during out stop:

  1. Formidable Leadership: Kathy Sandoval-Snider is a force.  She won’t let anything get in the way of what’s best for kids.  When you sit with her, she frames, phrases, and discusses our public education system differently.  She thinks differently.  It reminded me of those old Steve Jobs Apple ads where people who challenged the status quo were held up as innovators and outliers.  And when you’re running the number one school in the state, and thinking differently, that’s called courage and vision.  When you review the school’s results, when you see it’s high expectations, when you talk to the student leaders throughout the small building, it’s no wonder why thousands of families want to send their child there.  As a state, we should want an AIMS in every community.
  2. “Building” student “discipline”: We had the good fortune of seeing the karate class in the “gym” (more below) not long after we saw how the students “dismissed” after lunch and recess (dismissed is in quotes because there was no bell or adults directly traffic, but rather a symphony of students who were on a mission to get to where they needed to be next without any prompting).  Strong school culture has been built and developed over the past decade, to the point where it barely needs reinforcement.  The school added a middle school about six year ago to start building that culture even earlier, and its paying off.  Never before on the tour had I seen such a disciplined (positive connotation) group of young scholars.  This has been instilled in them by the school, and the faculty expects nothing short of daily, intense focus.  It’s not a set of rules and consequences like when we typically talk about school culture and building discipline, but rather a set of shared values that the faculty and students exude.
  3. Facilities…don’t matter?: One of the most prevalent pieces of conventional wisdom in public education today is that building a new school is automatically a good thing and a good investment our children.  I get it—parents and families make choices based on aesthetics in large part and who doesn’t want a gym, an auditorium, a dance room, a community garden, a top-notch cafeteria?  But conventional wisdom might not hold up when it comes to how our students are actually doing.  In fact, AIMS smashes the traditional paradigm on this front, and forces all of us to rethink how much/how little facilities matter.  I’ve had the privilege to visit some stunning campuses over the past three months, many earning As, but it has become abundantly clear to me that there is little to no correlation between the quality of the facility and the academic performance.  AIMS, situated on UNM’s campus, feels like an old government office building (I think it is one, actually).  There was no gym.  I didn’t see a cafeteria.  The entrance into the building was unimpressive.  A small slice of pavement out-back is the recess area.  The science classrooms were not outfitted for science (yes, at an institute for science!).  And yes, this is the #1 school in New Mexico. 

We walked out reminded that high expectations, strong school leadership, and the freedom to build a great team how the leader sees fit might just matter more than anything.

The AIMS visit was too short!  We can’t wait to get back and see some more outstanding teaching, and to talk more with one of the state’s visionary school leaders.