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MASTERS Program: Aims to give kids accelerated curriculum
[September 01, 2008]

MASTERS Program: Aims to give kids accelerated curriculum

(Santa Fe New Mexican, The (KRT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sep. 1--John Bishop is one of the few charter school applicants who is not a professional educator. He is president of Norsam Technologies, a Los Alamos National Laboratory tech-transfer spinoff founded in 1995. The company applies ion- and electron-beam technologies to the nano/micromachining, diamond and archival preservation industries.

Bishop, who is also president of the Santa Fe Rotary Foundation for the Arts, is proposing a program based at Santa Fe Community College for students in grades 10, 11 and 12 that emphasizes math, arts, science, technology, engineering, reading and service. The MASTERS Program students would enroll in community college courses and could earn up to two years of college credits along with their high-school diplomas.

The program is modeled after Middle College High School on The University of New Mexico campus in Gallup, whose principal, Walter Feldman, last week took questions from members of the Public Education Commission. The Gallup school is targeted at students who "need a different kind of push" and weren't doing so well in a traditional public school.

The MASTERS Program is designed for young people who want an accelerated curriculum and an affordable college education, as well as at-risk students who need a flexible schedule. It should also appeal to students who are being home-schooled, Bishop said. To graduate, students must earn 28 credits, four more than the state requires.

Phyllis Baca, a member of the adjunct faculty of the community college's Business and Technologies Division, who addressed the commissioners in favor of the application, said, "We're looking for kids who haven't been engaged ... who may not know what they want to do by the 11th or 12th grade."

In addition to taking community college courses, each student will spend two hours a day in a homeroom where teachers, called tutors, will support them in their college classes. The tentative initial budget includes funding for three teachers plus a half-time special education instructor and a half-time school counselor. The college has agreed to provide facility space -- two large classrooms and three offices -- as well as course instruction to the students.

Under a dual-enrollment program, some students in Santa Fe already take community college classes that are not offered on their high-school campuses. The new school is separate from that program.

Commissioners had numerous questions about how the tutors and college-level instructors will work together to deliver instruction. One concern was the availability of the college professors, who are used to dealing with young adult students and not their parents. Gallup Principal Feldman said he serves as the go-between for parents of students at Middle College High School. Al Reed, dean of the community college's business and technologies division, said all faculty are expected to be available to students in their offices for eight hours a week.

Commissioner Eugene Grant, a school board member from Las Cruces, questioned the tutors' qualifications, saying, "Three teachers are going to have the capability of tutoring in all the subjects?"

Other questions concerned how at-risk students will benefit from the program and what high-school courses will be available to students who test below college-level course readiness.

Students will also have all the tutoring and other support services available to college students, free of charge, Reed assured them.

According to the application, the new school will also be working with Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Center for Genome Research, the Santa Fe Institute and the arts and culture communities on the service learning component of the program.

Bishop said he first began thinking about charter schools when he was looking for a solution to the financial problems of the New Mexico Academy for Sciences and Mathematics. (The school eventually decided to remain private and later closed.) He learned about the success Middle College High School was having in Gallup.

Gallup had taken the college curriculum and aligned it with benchmark standards for the state's high schools, Bishop said, adding, "I'm not inventing the wheel."

"Why can't we offer the same thing to kids here in Santa Fe?" he asked.

The school "will be a be a great benefit for our community," Bishop promised, and help students, "get a jump on life." Also, he added, "piggybacking onto the existing infrastructure can do nothing but benefit these kids."

Referring to commissioners' concerns, Bishop assured them, "I do expect to take care of all these issues."

Contact Anne Constable at 986-3022 or

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