History of J. Paul Taylor Academy
School founders, Beatrice Jenkins, Cynthia Risner-Schiller, Lynne Gratton, Shar Happe, and Mary Loveland, submitted a charter school application to the New Mexico Public Education Department, Charter School Division, on December 21, 2009 to establish J. Paul Taylor Academy. The founders first considered naming the school Organ Mountain Academy, but were greatly honored when one of New Mexico’s most influential champions of social justice, J. Paul Taylor, agreed to let the school carry his name.
In the charter application, the founders spelled out the importance of meeting the needs of all students and proposed using a project-based learning approach and focusing on Spanish language acquisition. The charter was accepted in December 2010, and after an extensive search, Cynthia Risner-Schiller was hired as the school’s first Head Administrator in spring 2011.
The school’s first year of operation was 2011-2012. J. Paul Taylor Academy originally opened in a temporary, rented space: a former pre-school located at 3900 Del Rey Boulevard, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88012. The school originally served K-6th grades with a plan to add 7th and 8th grades in subsequent years. In the first year, staff and the Governance Council began to search for a permanent location.
In the first year, students selected the Phoenix as the school mascot. The district was canvassed to gather the names of all local school mascots, and the only mascots of interest that were not already in use were the bobcat and the horned lizard. Students suggested adding the Phoenix for consideration, and the students voted. Older students made ballots and handled the voting, and all students were able to submit mascot drawings. The Phoenix won as the school mascot, and student, Alma Kassim, had the winning Phoenix drawing.
In year two, 2012-2013, the school added 7th grade. The middle school offered classes fulfilling all state requirements. In the third year, 2013-2014, the final grade, 8th grade, was added. Staff and the Governance Council began preparing for charter renewal.
In the fourth year, 2014-2015, staff and the Governance Council continued to prepare for charter renewal and filed two amendments to the charter. Through the combined efforts of Dr. Jana Williams with the facilities committee and then Superintendent, Stan Rounds with his Las Cruces Public Schools Team, a location in the Alameda District of Las Cruces was chosen and the construction began. At the end of the year, Mrs. Risner retired, and Aine Garcia-Post was hired as the new Head Administrator.
In year 5, 2015-2016, the school moved to its new location at 402 W. Court Avenue, Building 2, Las Cruces, NM 88005 in November. The charter renewal was submitted and approved. At the end of the school year, Ms. Garcia returned to the local district. The Licensed Employees formed a collective bargaining unit.
The sixth year, 2016-17, was the first year of the new charter contract. Eric Ahner was hired as the administrator with a new title of Executive Director. Further development of the schoolyard occurred with the completion of the basketball and foursquare courts.
The seventh year, 2017-18, saw final ratification of the Licensed Employees Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Two amendments to our Charter were submitted and approved. The track was completed, and funding was also secured for the irrigation, grass, and a play structure for the schoolyard. At the end of the school year, Mr. Ahner returned to classroom teaching.
In year eight, 2018-19, Christy Takacs was hired as Executive Director, and Sharon Myers was hired as the school’s first Assistant Director. Irrigation and grass were installed in the schoolyard.
J. Paul Taylor Academy continues to serve the diverse students of the Las Cruces area with a project-based learning approach and a focus on Spanish language acquisition.