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Polaris Charter School proposal draws crowd

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By Wren Propp

Organizers of a proposed charter school for middle school-age students in Los Alamos welcomed more than 100 people to an introductory reception Friday night at Fuller Lodge.

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Jamie Civitello, a parent, said she came out on a busy night to learn more about the Polaris Charter School proposal.

“I support land-based learning and I’d like to have more options,” she said, after thumbing through a large book – one of many materials set out, along with instructional games, to engage children and their parents at tables set up for that purpose.

Meanwhile, children examined different types of rocks under magnification or picked up simple coding techniques on a lap top computer to move around a plastic creature.

Organizers of the proposed Polaris Charter School, for students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades said they’ve got quite a journey ahead of them to reach their goal of opening the school by August 2019.

They face an initial deadline in January for a notice of intent to the state Public Education Department, then a full application in June.

Funding, a facility, and whether Polaris will be a “local” charter school authorized by Los Alamos Public Schools or the state Public Education Commission are still unknown, organizers said.

At Friday’s event organizers Elizabeth Martineau and Michele Altherr welcomed the crowd and acknowledged a desire for change within Los Alamos.

“We heard you…We heard what you had to say,” Martineau said, noting comments collected last year while LAPS was still working toward the $10 million prize included more educational options for students.

No two children are alike, and even children from the same family often have completely different educational needs, Altherr said.

“We hope to add to the options,” she said.

Their school would be focused on place-based learning, utilizing the region’s environment, cultures and landscapes to help students engage in science, math, history and literature.

Students who attend the school will still be subject to taking state exams and requirements at other public schools.
Organizers include Bill Hargraves, a member of the LAPS board, who said he is working on the effort as a private citizen.

Hargraves butted heads with other members of the LAPS board in mid-November after they learned he had met with Superintendent Kurt Steinhaus and urged him – some board members said “pressured” him – to support the charter school effort, a move that some of them said was a conflict of interest on his part.

The public will have another opportunity to learn more about Polaris at a meeting to be held 4-5 p.m. today with 21st Century Partners in Education. The group meets in the conference room in Smith’s Marketplace in Los Alamos.

Organizers of the proposed school – an outcrop of an unsuccessful contest entry to create a “new” high school and win $10 million from the XQ Institute – said they’ve got quite a journey ahead of them to open the school by August 2019.

They face an initial deadline in January for a notice of intent to the state Public Education Department, then a full application in June.

Funding, a facility, and whether Polaris will be a “local” charter school authorized by Los Alamos Public Schools or the state Public Education Commission are still unknown, organizers said.

At Friday’s event organizers Elizabeth Martineau and Michele Altherr welcomed the crowd and acknowledged a desire for change within Los Alamos.

“We heard you…We heard what you had to say,” Martineau said, noting comments collected last year while LAPS was still working toward the $10 million prize.