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EVCA graduates its first class

The Independent of Edgewood, New Mexico

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The Estancia Valley Classical Academy celebrated its first graduating class Saturday, when nine graduates claimed their diplomas.

The school's director, Tim Thiery, spoke with The Independent about the charter school's philosophy and progress after three years.

Survey results from the state Public Education Department, with 30 responses from parents, rated the school well, with 92 percent saying their child is safe at school and 96 percent saying the school "holds high expectations for academic achievement And 96 percent of those parents said they were encouraged to participate in the education of their children.

By contrast, only 62 percent said the school had up-to-date computers and technology available to students and 70 percent said the school maintains consistent discipline.

Fully 99 percent of those parents who responded said they understand and support the mission of the school.

That mission, according to the school's website, is: "To preserve our nation's Founding Principles, Estancia Valley Classical Academy seeks to furnish willing students a rigorous education in the humanities, the sciences, and the arts, with such instruction in the virtues as will best develop the mind and character of its pupils."

Thiery said the main strength of the school is that it has held true to its mission statement. "Holding on to that rigorous education and not compromising on that — that's one of the things our seniors demonstrated."

Thiery teaches a class for seniors on moral philosophy, in which students were required to "put together a public thesis where they explained and defended their world view,... how you know what is good, what is bad, what is right, what is wrong, where our rights come from and how to find the best ideas in a clamorous crowd of talkers." He said the class left him impressed with "the kind of citizen we want to develop."

He said the biggest differences between Estancia Valley Classical Academy and a regular public school is two pronged: setting a high standard and holding students accountable to that standard, and the idea that "all ideas are not equal."

Thiery continued, "If we train our minds with reason, we can pick the best ideas out of a group." He said,"When we're trying to create a culture of learning, that's a different culture than a lot of students have grown up in."

Asked to elaborate, Thiery said that while state law requires a student to pass Algebra 2 before they can graduate, that this requirement is often waived at a regular public school; EVCA he said, will not bend on that academic requirement "to make people happy," among others. The school also requires high school students to take at least one year of Latin to graduate, and starts teaching Latin at the earliest levels.

This academic rigor has not been easy for all students or parents to accept, Thiery said. "Real learning requires thoughtful, reflective time," he said. "And it's hard work And takes dedication. Quite honestly our general culture does not have much of an appetite for that." He said ideas of "self-sacrifice" and "religious or quasi-religious concepts" have fallen by the wayside, things the charter school hopes to revive. "Some students are still adjusting to that reality, to believing that hard work is necessary and will pay off," he said.

Asked what the school's strategy for this "cultural change" is, Thiery replied, "I think the solution is pretty simple. I guess to put it briefly it's a disservice to people to give them something they didn't earn.... So we just say if you didn't earn it, you're not going to get it, as a rule. It's in your best interest to work harder."

The school had 405 students at last count, a number that pushed it over the "small school adjustment" for funding, costing it $250,000 in state dollars. That meant laying off "one teacher, a couple of teacher's aides and a custodian," Thiery said, adding that the school has a target enrollment for next year of 450 students, and hopes to hire those employees back if that target is reached.

Finances have been the biggest difficulty faced by the charter school, he said. The cost of leasing both buildings and land has been high, he said. The school hopes to have land and a building built in the next few years, which Thiery said would save the charter school some money. At its graduation, it unveiled an architect's drawing for a school designed for EVCA.

Thiery, who joined the school last year after 23 years spent mainly as a middle school science teacher in Indiana, said he was "surprised at the smallish dollar figure that New Mexico provides for public education." He added, "It's another challenge to working here, but I came for the vision, not the money. I'm game for it, but it's just honestly surprising."

Plans for a new building "are an exciting possibility," Thiery said.

The nine graduates were host to a crowd of hundreds, with the commencement speech delivered by Larry P. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College in Michigan, with which the charter school is affiliated.

Hillsdale was founded in 1844, and according to a press release from EVCA "has built a national reputation through its classical core curriculum and its principled refusal to accept federal or state taxpayer subsidies."

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Original Publication Date: June 3, 2015

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