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Taos Community Comes out in Support of local EL Charter School

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    Ben Smith

The Taos Municipal School Board voted to recharter Vista Grande High School Nov. 8.

Vista Grande supporters, including students, parents and employees, packed the board’s meeting room, and several spoke on behalf of the recharter. Many carried handmade signs declaring their support for the school.

Teacher Ned Dougherty addressed the board, saying the school’s Expeditionary Learning focus makes for a “more engaging education.” Expeditionary Learning schools, of which there are more than 150 in the country, seek to engage students through incorporating projects and excursions into their curricula.

“We believe (Expeditionary Learning) is transformative for students,” Dougherty said. “Expeditionary Learning works, and for Taos, Vista Grande works.”

Dougherty and others argued that Vista Grande, now in its fifth year, is an asset to the Taos community. Staff member Mark Barela, who leads the school’s wilderness adventure program, said rigorous backpacking trips that are built into the curriculum give students confidence in other tasks, as well as connecting future environmental stewards to the wilderness.

“We believe (Expeditionary Learning) is transformative for students. Expeditionary Learning works, and for Taos, Vista Grande works." Ned Dougherty Teacher, Vista Grande High School

“You won’t believe the sense of pride and accomplishment students have,” he said.

Teacher Josan Perales talked about the school’s Spanish program, saying studying Spanish in a community like Taos helps younger people communicate with their elders as well as gain “deeper and more meaningful connections” in their other classes. He said his students studied storytelling last year and are studying the Mexican muralist movement this fall.

Other parents and students spoke on behalf of Vista Grande’s staff and curriculum, arguing that students need a choice when it comes to education.

Representatives from Taos Pueblo also asked the board to recharter Vista Grande: Lt. War Chief Benito Concha read a letter signed by Gov. Nelson Cordova and War Chief Edwin Concha, saying the school has found ways to support and meet the needs of students from Taos Pueblo.

“We appreciate the option that Vista Grande High School provides,” he said.
Board members Stella Gallegos and Thomas “Chuby” Tafoya both voiced their support for the school, as well, before the 3-0 vote in favor of the recharter. Jason Silva voted in favor. Board member Zach Córdova was absent, and David Chávez abstained.

In a later interview with The Taos News, Chávez said he likely would have been ready to vote on the recharter when the board meets in December, but he was unsuccessful in arranging a meeting with Vista Grande Director C.J. Grace and still had unanswered questions when the recharter vote came before the board. He said he was trying to be vigilant in his duties and feels the board shouldn’t be a “rubber-stamping entity,” so he decided to abstain.

When asked at Tuesday’s meeting why the recharter had taken so long, Superintendent Rod Weston said he was pleased the district and board had taken time examining the rechartering documents, and the school’s mission and vision, before reaffirming their support for the charter school.

The board also voted Tuesday to endorse a bid package to renovate the Celestino Romero Administration Building, on Paseo del Cáñon East, in order to allow Vista Grande to move into the building next school year.

This article was originally posted in the The Taos News.