Taos Academy: Student-driven education equals maximum empowerment

By Mandy Sotelo 
Posted 2/27/20

When you graduate from Taos Academy Charter School, the future is more than bright. The future is yours.

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Taos Academy: Student-driven education equals maximum empowerment


When you graduate from Taos Academy Charter School, the future is more than bright. The future is yours.

The future

By directly involving each individual student in the shaping of his or her education, Taos Academy founders, faculty and staff have developed a unique approach to learning that builds on the students’ own goals and aspirations and results in a graduating class of confident young adults with a full appreciation for what they have accomplished and what they are capable of achieving in the future.

“Student empowerment is something we talk a lot about. It’s about helping them learn who they are so they can own their education,” said Traci Filiss, director, superintendent and one of the founders of Taos Academy. “In my opinion, that’s why we are successful.”

Classified as a hybrid school by the Digital Learning Collaborative, Taos Academy is unique in New Mexico, with a 21st-century learning program that incorporates digital classes with in-person instruction – facilitating flexible, personalized schedules to fit the varying needs and goals of students and their families. Though this model requires students to report on campus two days a week, the majority choose to attend on their days off as well, according to Director of Teaching and Learning Elizabeth LeBlanc.

“You have kids here when they technically don’t have school that day, and they do awesome things,” LeBlanc said. Among the attractions are enrichment programs; STEM-Arts classes engaging students in science, technology, engineering, math and the arts; and the fully staffed Student Success Lab.


The past

Taos Academy first opened its doors in 2009, the product of a common vision conceived by Filiss and fellow teacher Karin Moulton. Their 30-plus years’ combined experience told them that students in the digital age crave more than just the traditional classroom environment. The two teachers saw this as an opportunity to create a modern approach designed to inspire in students a fresh enthusiasm for learning.

Filiss, with her background in digital education, and Moulton, an accomplished student-rights advocate, put their heads together and came up with a strategy for engaging students in an education that would better prepare them for the evolving world beyond the classroom. It all started with five teachers and 60 kids at a small location on La Posta Road.

“That was a trailblazing group for sure,” said Filiss. “The idea was incredibly revolutionary at the time. There were no models to follow.”


The present

Today’s Taos Academy, on Paseo del Cañon West, with its multiple buildings fully equipped to accommodate the blend of digital and face-to-face learning, is able to serve up to 250 students in grades 5 through 12, and has been ranked among America’s best high schools by the “U.S. News and World Report” every year since 2015.

“We’ve worked really hard to become an excellent and innovative school,” said LeBlanc. “There’s something special going on here. What we’re doing is pretty cutting-edge.”

Despite a common local misconception, LeBlanc said, Taos Academy is not a private school. It is a public school that welcomes all students and accommodates all learning styles. Taos Academy students can play on Taos Municipal Schools sports teams and participate in dual-credit opportunities at University of New Mexico-Taos.

Taos Academy’s success is the success of its students and dedicated teachers. According to LeBlanc, internal and external research has shown that the average new student to Taos Academy is two years below grade level, but by the time they graduate, they are outperforming the national average. In 2019, a Taos Academy team won the top prize in the first New Mexico Governor’s STEM Challenge with a drone they designed to help mitigate the spread of wildfires.

“The bar is high here, but we will do everything we can to make sure the kids get the support they want and need, and the kids are rising to it,” said Filiss. “Here’s what I know. I know at the end of the semester when students take the finals, they say, ‘I got’ the score, not ‘they gave me’ the score. It’s a celebration at the end of the semester that kids have done it all for themselves. No one handed them anything.”

Visit TaosAcademy.org  to enroll.


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