SODA receives only A grade in Valencia County

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The School of Dreams Academy received an A grade from the New Mexico Department of Education this year.

When the new grading system began last year, a preliminary grade was given to each school a few months early, then final grades were released that summer.

SODA's preliminary grade was an F, then the school received a final grade of a D, but this year, the school shot up to an A, the only A in Valencia County.

"I think that's pretty significant," said Mike Ogas, the school's principal and co-founder. "I'm very proud of staff, students, the parents — they worked extremely hard this past year. They were determined."

The new New Mexico grading system replaces the Average Yearly Progress federal ratings system, and calculates school grades using at least three years' worth of data in areas such as academic growth, support of both the highest and lowest performing students, college and career readiness, graduation rates, and attendance.

The school scored particularly high in academic growth in both its highest and lowest performing students, and it ranked high in the overall growth of grade-level performance. All the students reached the state's reading and math target for schools with similar population demographics.

"We're understanding more and more, not just about the requirements, but the whole thing about being a quality school," said Ogas. "We spent a lot of time looking at quality schools all around the country and using some of the things that we found."

The school also scored well in fostering an environment that facilitates learning, and college and career readiness. School staff work closely with the University of New Mexico and Central New Mexico Community College for a comprehensive dual enrollment program, and SODA teachers have trained in advanced placement classes over the past two years, he said.

"The staff have really taken ownership of what's going on," said Ogas. "They've been working throughout the summer to enhance some of the things the school is already doing to make them better, and (working on) how to improve."

Last year, the school started teaching test-taking skills, and implemented paying for every high school student to take the ACT test, starting at ninth grade.

"And you can take it up to 12 times," Ogas said. "I think it's good for them to learn in a formal testing situation, because they're going to run across it. I think that's going to strengthen us as a school and make the kids better students — give them a better shot at what they want to do when they get out of here."

The school is four years old, and had its first graduating class this year.

"The group that just left us were the ones that really took a chance," Ogas said. "The students and their families, because they had no idea what was going to happen, if the school was going to fold after a year, or what. They stuck with us the whole time, and I will always be grateful to them for that, and to their families. It was a huge commitment on their part. It was their kids' lives, pretty much."


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.