NAIS Blog – In New Mexico, Eagle Rock Keeps on Cutting Edge of School Assessment and Leadership

​In 1989, American Honda Motor Company designed and executed a philanthropic initiative to strengthen the company’s corporate social responsibility. The focus on education emerged after two company leaders, Tom Dean and Mak Itabashi, identified widespread student disengagement in high school as an issue that the company could directly address.

Their solution? A school that would serve high school students as well as a professional development center that would contribute to improved student engagement in public secondary education nationally. That school is Eagle Rock School, a high school in Estes Park, Colorado, accredited by the Association of Colorado Independent Schools and AdvancEd. Eagle Rock exists for the purpose of student reengagement, and our Professional Development Center supports and guides schools to implement practices that will accelerate and sustain their improvement. As Founding Board Chair Tom Dean said, “It is through professional development that Honda’s investment is leveraged into the greater good.”
Ever since, the team at Eagle Rock has been working with public high schools and public organizations across the country in their local context to carry out this mission. In particular, our Professional Development Center’s team of six is engaged in cutting-edge assessment and leadership work in New Mexico. The state received the education policy grade of C, according to the 2014 State Education Performance and Policy Index. That report ranked New Mexico number 32 among the 50 states in academic performance for students from low-income households, and noted the state had a 67.3 percent graduation rate.

Establishing New Metrics of Evaluation beyond Test Scores

We know that judging a school by how its students are doing on their standardized reading and math tests can’t capture the full picture of the work a school is doing and the impact it’s having on students. Thus, Eagle Rock has helped form a collaborative, two-year initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to develop new evaluation methods that lay the groundwork for innovation and improvement in our education system. The New Mexico Center for School Leadership, the Eagle Rock Professional Development Center, and the McCune Charitable Foundation have gathered a cross-section of leaders from innovative New Mexico charter schools to create the New Metrics Initiative.
The initial prototype included six public charter schools in the McCune Foundation’s giving portfolio: Health Leadership High School with 150 students, ACE Leadership with 380 students, Amy Biehl High School with 300 students, South Valley Academy with 600 students, Native American Community Academy with 450 students, and Albuquerque Sign Language Academy with 150 students. A video series shares the unique approaches of those first schools in the initiative.  The next phase of the initiative has included four additional schools: Atrisco with 2,700 students, NextGen with 400 students, Media Arts with 350 students, and Technology Leadership High School with 100 students.
The Initiative’s goal is “to identify new metrics of evaluation that support and incentivize schools that provide students with the educational experiences and skills they need to become successful adults.” To this end, we have created the “High Quality School Performance Framework” to assess schools, and are testing the model now (see model below).

As part of this effort, Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center led a series of strategy sessions to help school leaders find a way for students to convey what they’ve learned through realistic projects that they might tackle in the real world. These projects are set up to challenge students to solve problems using their academic knowledge and interpersonal skills. For example, students at ACE Leadership High School built natural habitat walkways to preserve the health of the silver minnow in the local region and built a deck in the Sandia Peak Ski basin in the Cibola National Forest outside of Albuquerque.

Playing Role in Launching New Charter Schools

Eagle Rock’s staff also supports the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, an incubator for local charter schools that serve communities in the greatest need. The work requires a great deal of sensitivity to the region’s culture because Albuquerque and New Mexico in general are known for distrusting solutions imposed by outsiders. In fact, in the late 1870s, Gov. Lew Wallace, the former territorial governor, famously claimed: “All calculations based on experiences elsewhere fail in New Mexico.” Eagle Rock is able to break through these long-held sentiments because it has a track record of surfacing local wisdom to solve local problems. Our staff has helped the New Mexico Center for School Leadership start up two schools (ACE Leadership High School and Health Leadership High School). We helped the Tech Leadership High School launch this August with 100 students, and we are planning for Entrepreneurship High School to open next fall with 100 students and continue to grow in enrollment.

Involved in Engaging Youth in Santa Fe Area

In another leadership initiative, Eagle Rock plays a key part in Youth and GradNation summits in Santa Fe, designed to improve youth’s prospects for success. For starters, Eagle Rock gathers disconnected youth ages 16 – 24 in the Santa Fe area to help plan these summits. We also train youth facilitators/leaders for the events likely to draw hundreds of young people. We’re planning sessions at the summits to share youth outcomes and implications for youth not in school or employed, or otherwise disengaged.  Afterward, we will help the Santa Fe mayor’s office draft a position paper on youth engagement.
Indeed, our staff is deeply involved with the mayor’s office, and participates as experts in his cabinet’s conversations on youth issues. We’re also advising the mayor’s three working groups on Disconnected Youth, Workforce Development, and Career Pathways. We support acting on the mayor’s key priorities related to alternative school models, engagement, and career paths. Finally, we’re guiding the design of a Youth Advisory Group to boost youth engagement.


Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center envisions America’s high schools as high functioning centers of engagement and learning, and the assessment and leadership initiatives we’ve committed to in New Mexico are helping to fulfill this purpose.

15-0820-DanCondon-sm.jpgDan Condon is an education activist and currently serves as associate director of professional development at the Eagle Rock School & Professional Development Center, a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative of the American Honda Education Corporation, a nonprofit subsidiary of the American Honda Motor Company.  

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