A prospective Ute Mountain Ute charter school is moving forward, and Towaoc educators may now apply to the Charter School Institute for authorization.
At its regular January meeting, the Montezuma-Cortez school board approved a resolution allowing the application and removing the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 as the charter’s authorizing agent. The district wanted to avoid another step in the process of establishing the school, according to Tina King-Washington, K-12 education director for the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.
“It’s kind of streamlining the whole process,” King-Washington told The Journal Friday.
The vote was 6-1, with board member Jack Schuenemeyer as the lone dissenter.
The school would emphasize a group-based style of learning and incorporate language and culture into its curriculum, according to King-Washington. She said they plan to follow a “Montessori-type” curriculum” – although not fully Montessori – with an open classroom and a focus on working in teams.
“We want to get them from the start to be able to work with anybody and work out differences, and work on projects and listen to each other for ideas,” King-Washington said.
Another key component will be having a room for tribal elders, King-Washington said.
“Elders are the key to keeping our kids knowing about cultures and tradition,” she said. “And we’ve gotten away from that. And when you get away from cultures and tradition, then you lose part of your learning and part of who you are in your history.”
At first, the school plans to open for just kindergarten, first and second grades, and then expand every year until they serve students all the way through 12th grade. In addition to working with the Charter School Institute and the Colorado Department of Education, school founders are collaborating with the NACA Inspired Schools Network, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that supports Native American communities that want to form their own schools.
NACA is the Native American Community Academy, a public charter school in Albuquerque.
The resolution approved by the Re-1 school board at the Jan. 21 meeting allows for the establishment of “one brick and mortar charter school serving students in grades K-12 and ancillary programs.”
“The Board is willing to allow the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe to apply to CSI subject to the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s compliance with the Rules for Administration of the State Charter School Institute and other applicable law,” the resolution reads.
Schuenemeyer voiced concerns that the charter would isolate students on the Towaoc reservation.
“There’s a high percentage of at-risk children in the Ute Mountain Ute reservation,” he said. “In some ways – in many ways – it’s fairly isolated; you’ve got people living in a pretty small community, many of them work in a small community. I think children learn better when they have broader experiences.”
But others said the tribe should be given the chance to offer a new educational option for their children.
“We talk about wanting to be an innovative community and putting out great educational experiences,” said board director Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk. “Well, I think that includes even from our board level. We speak of that all the time: We learn from one another, we learn from other communities. And I think it’s worthy to say we can engage in this conversation.”
King-Washington and other charter school leaders have until December to apply to the Charter School Institute, otherwise the resolution expires. Next steps, she said, include figuring out where the school would be located, and securing grants to move ahead with the process.