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New America School leader recognized nationally for work supporting charter schools

Las Cruces Sun-News
Las Cruces Sun-News
 2022-05-14
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LAS CRUCES – A local school leader garnered national recognition for her work supporting charter schools in the community.

New America School-Las Cruces Superintendent and Principal Margarita Leza Porter received the 2022 Changemaker Award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools — an annual award given to 10 people nationally for their work with charter schools.

"The accolades that I've received have just been wonderful," Leza Porter said. "It just affirms that I do what I love, and I love what I do."

Leza Porter said she is glad to represent Las Cruces and New Mexico with this award. She hopes that more parents will recognize the value of charter schools for certain learners.

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Her recognition was broadcast at a virtual ceremony on Thursday.

Leza Porter said she was honored when she was first nominated by Matthew Pahl, the executive director of Public Charter Schools of New Mexico. She said she learned of her nomination in early March and heard she was in the top 10 at the end of March.

"I was in tears. I was speechless," Leza Porter said. "Even now, when I think about it, I just, I'm just taken aback. I'm just so, so honored and incredibly grateful for this recognition. I come to work and do my best every single day because that's who I am. For somebody to recognize it is just so amazing. I do it for for my students and my learning community, I don't do it to to be recognized."

A community advocate

Leza Porter was nominated as a Changemaker for "her continued efforts to serve her community and improve the quality of educational success for disadvantaged students."

Leza Porter said that her work in opening the daycare at the New America School, community service projects on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and support for the homeless community were aspects that earned her the nomination.

She added that a recent initiative to get STEM funding for Las Cruces charter schools was a factor.

The New America School noticed that a former source of revenue hadn't come in for some time: the County Regional Spaceport Gross Receipt Tax, which is intended to fund STEM activity for public schools in Doña Ana County.

With the changing of superintendents, there was a miscommunication. Las Cruces Public Schools was receiving all the money, even though some of the funding was earmarked for charter schools.

"I rallied our team, and we've had several meetings with Las Cruces Public Schools, and now our schools have access to those funds again so that we can help our STEM programs," Leza Porter said. "I think that that was one of the big reasons why they identified me, because I'm making changes for Las Cruces."

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Leza Porter said she could have easily fixed the problem for the New America School alone, but she reached out to the six other local charter schools to help everyone benefit from the spaceport funds. She's glad the miscommunication has been resolved and expects the funding, which is allocated once a year, to come in soon.

She said LCPS has done a great job of communicating and fixing the error.

Sharing the news

Leza Porter shared the good news about the Changemaker award gradually, telling her family first. She said her daughters, 19 and 22, didn't understand the "gravity" of the nomination. She explained that out of all the principals, teachers and staff in the 96 charter schools in New Mexico, she was chosen to represent the state.

She also shared the news with the New America School staff who were excited for Leza Porter. She added that the award isn't hers alone, she owes much of her success to the staff who has supported her along the way.

"This recognition belongs to all of us; to school, the parents, the community, my governing board, the city and the state," Leza Porter said. "I don't do this job alone. I do it with everybody, together."

Leza Porter read one of the comments she received in response to the award from a former students. The message was sent to her daughter: "Your mom is a great woman. She has helped so many people. She deserves it all and more."

She said she was humbled by the community response.

Leza Porter isn't done after receiving Changemaker recognition. She plans to continue support students and make sure all feel included. The New America School just received a five-year charter renewal to allow it to keep serving students.

The New America School currently has 159 students and offers more personalized instruction for students who may not fit into a traditional school setting.

As a first-generation American, Leza Porter said she sees a lot of herself in her students, many of whom come from disadvantaged environments — economically, linguistically or otherwise.

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Of the 159 students, 58 are ages 19 to 22.

"My platform would be to continue to fight for adults to get their high school diploma, that will always and forever be my my fight," Leza Porter said. "Most of our students are disadvantaged, so it's continuing to give them every possible opportunity to achieve the American dream. Each student has their own idea of what an American dream is, and where do I help them get there. For me working here, working in the community where I was born and raised, that is my American dream."

Miranda Cyr, a Report for America corps member, can be reached at mcyr@lcsun-news.com or @mirandabcyr on Twitter. Show your support for the Report for America program at https://bit.ly/LCSNRFA.

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