The City of Vision’s newest charter school is set to open Wednesday, Aug. 9.
Once the home of a 50,000-square-foot Concentrix call center, Explore Academy, 6090 Zenith Court, will be the new home for students in grades kindergarten through sixth.
That’s a recent change for the school, which originally planned to host K-2 and grade six in the 2023-24 school year, adding other grades in the near future. The lottery for students took place on March 6.
Principal Jaclyn Bogue, who not only lives in Rio Rancho but was among Rio Rancho High School’s first graduating Class of 1999, has been with Albuquerque Public Schools the past 18 years, 10 as a teacher and the last eight as an administrator at Sierra Vista Elementary on the West Side.
Eighteen years is a long time to be at one place, and when she saw an opportunity at Explore Academy, “I kinda was looking for something a little different. … It unfolded pretty quickly, where I got the position in December.” She then “hit the ground running in January,” but finished out the 2022-23 school year at Sierra Vista.
Bogue is excited about what will be happening at Explore Academy, which will have 280-315 students this school year, and more when it adds a seventh grade for 2024-25. The school will be K-12 by 2029, she said, with as many as 900 students.
The bulk of students enrolled live in Rio Rancho, but they also hail from the West Side – such as Taylor Ranch and Paradise Hills – and “a handful followed me from my APS site,” Bogue said.
“I think a lot of teachers are excited to have the opportunity just to be free to teach how they would like,” Bogue said. “That has been taken away from so many educators.
“I hope the nice things the students are hopefully going to experience is just the uniqueness of the school – it’s not a ‘Day 1, Page 1’ atmosphere. It’s going to be very unique to where students have the opportunity to choose what they want to do and create their own pathways to education, where a traditional school does not allow that.”
Cathy Rork-Gaarden a longtime teacher and administrator for Rio Rancho Public Schools, says schools like Explore Academy can make a difference in the future.
She’s a member of the school’s governing council and served time on the audit committee and finance committee.
“The world’s become a very complicated, stressful place,” she said. “It just all trickles down. We have to keep our public education strong – it’s the foundation of our democracy.
“(Schools) are blamed for every issue of social decay.”
Having classrooms with fewer students will be a plus, she said, with kindergarten classrooms limited to 14 students, and only 16 students in the new school’s other grades this year
Rork-Gaarden is more than familiar with charter schools; she was the principal of a charter school at Jemez Pueblo in 1999.
Charter schools, like Explore Academy, she said, are “a wonderful option for children and families. … I have several teachers and educator friends that have worked for me (in the past) that are working for the Albuquerque Explore Academy — they love it, they’re so excited. It’s just so child-centered and developmentally based.”
One of the charter school’s concepts she likes is “flavored.”
“Students get to pick their flavors, and how the standards are taught are through the flavors, learning whatever they’re into,” Rork-Gaarden explained. “The flavors change every six weeks or so; it keeps children better engaged.
“Say we’re going to learn algebra for the sixth graders, so we might study astronomy or amusement parks and the teacher develops the curriculum standards into what the students are interested in. Students are plugged into those high-interest areas. And the school’s not buying a canned curriculum costing thousands of dollars. … They can use the internet and ‘choose’ the flavors.”
The school is staffed with teachers who had taught in APS and RRPS and elsewhere in the state.
There is transportation available for some students; for example, Rork-Gaarden said, some Rio Rancho students who attend the campus in Albuquerque gather at the Target on NM 528 and are bused from there to the campus near Journal Center.
The school won’t have any athletics but will offer art and music.
If only she had a time machine: Rork-Gaarden said she wishes she was young again and about to enter education as a career.
“In the late 1970s, I would’ve loved it, and it reminds me more of when I started teaching … We did teach thematically, we did find our own resources, and teaching was fun and exciting. I would love to be teaching like this.”
Of course, it’s not going to be a one-stop shop for area students.
“Again, it’s just a choice for families that want something different,” she said.
How it all began
Explore Academy ABQ first opened as a state-authorized charter school for grades 9-12 in August 2014. Founded by former Rio Rancho High School science teacher Justin Baiardo, that school uses the innovative Explore Learning model, based on choices that promote student growth and responsibility while providing an individualized educational path for each student. It has since added grades K-8.
In 2021, Explore Academy opened in Las Cruces, and Explore Academy RIO received formal approval for a charter by the state’s Public Education Commission.
Explore Academy has earned a New Mexico Public Education Department “A” rating, becoming one of the highest-performing schools in New Mexico. Explore Academy has achieved the highest rate of student academic growth in English and mathematics of all high schools, public and charter schools, in the state of New Mexico.
More information is at explore.academy.