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Work begins for charter elementary

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Lisa Dunlap Photo Construction workers are preparing the site for portable classroom structures outside the existing Sidney Guiterrez school building on Gail Harris Street.

Roswell’s only public charter school has begun the site work necessary to expand its instructional space, as it will be teaching kindergarten through fifth grade for the first time starting in August.

About 12 modular units are being placed near Sidney Gutierrez Middle School’s existing building on Gail Harris Street, close to the Roswell Air Center.

“We are excited to be opening up in the fall,” said Yasine Armstrong, the vice president of the Sidney Gutierrez governing council. “That was our goal, and we are happy to see it come to fruition.”

For the past 19 years, Sidney Gutierrez has provided only sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Year after year, the school has been among the highest ranking academically in the state, according to New Mexico Public Education Department ratings and the results of required standardized student tests. Its charter limits middle school enrollment to 22 students for each grade, with exceptions to those caps allowed only in rare circumstances. The high demand among locals for a seat in the school resulted in a lottery system being established to determine which new students could have a spot each fall, after returning students and their siblings were enrolled.

So Sidney Gutierrez and its governing council decided that the best way to reach more Roswell students with the type of academic instruction it provides was to expand to elementary grades.

That expansion plan was approved in November 2018 by the Roswell Independent School District. The RISD authorizes the charter for the school, but the school operates largely independently of the district with its own administration, governance board and foundation.

For a time, the governing council considered leasing an available building in Roswell for the elementary operation. It also considered converting the upper floor of First United Methodist Church on North Pennsylvania Avenue into a school, but determined after architectural assessment that too much work would be required to meet state Public Education Department standards.

Armstrong said that the portables acquired by Sidney Gutierrez were previously owned by another New Mexico charter school, so they already meet state educational occupancy standards and, therefore, represented an affordable alternative.

She added that the portables should be set up and equipped with utilities by Aug. 1.

The 130 K-5 students have been enrolled for the coming academic year, she said, and some students are on a waiting list should an opening become available.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.