New Mexico's film industry is picking up speed. According to the New Mexico Film Office, 2017 was the best year on record with more than 60 projects spending $1 million on production. Though these numbers fell in 2018, giants like Netflix have decided to call our state home and the industry is expected to grow in coming years. In Santa Fe, one new middle school is experimenting with a curriculum designed to nurture dreams and skill sets that could lead kids to future careers in the industry.

Turquoise Trail Charter School opened the doors to its new Southside middle school in August with a small class of its elementary school graduates, and high hopes to expand.

"This school is a whole new concept for what middle schools can be in New Mexico; here, we're going to do things differently," Head Administrator Ray Griffin tells SFR.

With a capacity for only 200 students, enrollment in the state-chartered school is decided by a lottery that is open to students from all over New Mexico. However, a newly adopted policy grants priority to students from the Santa Fe school district, ensuring that local kids have a better chance of getting in. Students currently attending the charter's elementary school and their siblings also get a leg up in the selection process.

Turquoise Trail changed its admission plans after it spent most of the last year embroiled in a legal battle with the district over the site of its elementary school campus, which is located on a district-owned property off Highway 14 south of the city limits. The district wanted to solve overcrowding at Southside public elementary schools by reclaiming the campus and relocating the charter school to the north side of the city, a plan that Griffin and charter school parents vehemently opposed. In October, the two sides came to an agreement by which Turquoise Trail Elementary School may remain at its current location, but must give preference to local students.

The new option for middle schoolers comes at a time of transition for Santa Fe Public Schools. In 2017, Capshaw and De Vargas middle schools were merged to form Milagro Middle School, housed temporarily at the old Capshaw campus on Zia Road. In August 2019, the school will be reopen in a new building at the location of the former De Vargas Middle School on Llano Street.

Turquoise Trail has enlisted the help of some of the biggest players in the local studio scene to craft a curriculum that is heavily weighted toward new media, digital arts and technology. The charter had initially announced plans to build the middle school campus on site at Santa Fe Studios, the production facility that houses CW's new television show Roswell, New Mexico.

Those plans fell through, however, and for now the school is located in the Tierra Contenta neighborhood in a building shared with the Boys and Girls Club.

Santa Fe Studios Director of Operations Octavio Marin says that the company is still closely involved in the school's media program. "We are committed to training the next generation of the workforce in the entertainment industry," Marín tells SFR, adding that the company has "a vested interest in making sure that New Mexico succeeds."

Other partners in the program include NM Techworks, an organization founded to support New Mexico's innovation economy through skills-based training in coding and other essential digital technologies.

Griffin says the decision to expand came after pressure from parents with children at the school. Francesca Margaritondo, whose daughter attended Turquoise Trail from pre-K to sixth grade and who is the assistant to the head administrator there, tells SFR she is thrilled her daughter could continue at Turquoise Trail for seventh grade.

"The kids are encouraged to take responsibility for their own education," she says. "Ideally, this would be available to all kids."

Besides the focus on media and technology, Griffin tells SFR that the new charter middle school hopes to set itself apart with an approach to academic assessment and remediation in which students who fail classes or do not meet grade level standards will have to repeat the class again the next year. Remediation includes individualized strategic academic plans and tutoring.

Veronica Garcia, Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent, played a key role in helping the charter school and the Santa Fe school district come to an agreement about the elementary school campus last October.

Despite the compromise, Garcia tells SFR she's still unsure about the role that charter schools such as Turquoise Trail play in the overall picture of education in Santa Fe.

"What concerns me when we have growth in charter schools is that typically the parents who choose charter schools are the parents who are more likely to be engaged in the education," she says, noting that often it is the most economically disadvantaged students who remain in the traditional public-school system. "When you lose 200 kids, it can have a real negative impact on the kids who are left behind."

However, Garcia says she is excited about the next developments in middle school education in Santa Fe. She suggested that Ortiz and Milagro middle schools are also transitioning towards a model oriented more around project-based learning.

Griffin counters charter schools are an asset to public education because they act as a testing ground for new ideas and educational strategies. "Education is at an all-time low in New Mexico," he says, "what do we have to lose from trying out new things and things that have worked in other states?"

Parents are invited to enroll their children in the lottery for the 2019-2020 school year; the lottery is open through March 5.

Turquoise Trail Middle School Open House and Info Night

Open House: 5:30 pm-8 pm Tuesday Feb. 5. Free. Turquoise Trail Charter Middle School, 6600 Valentine Way, 986-4000

Info Night: 5:30 pm-8 pm Tuesday Feb. 5. Free. Cafe and Community Rooms, Santa Fe Public Library Southside Branch, 6599 Jaguar Drive, 986-4000