NM Hearing on Proposed Charter School for Isleta

Yesterday, the Commission for the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) held a public hearing on the application to create a charter school in Isleta. The hearing was at the Isleta Rec Center. The purpose was to allow public comment on the proposed school.

20 tribal members attended the hearing, which included 1st Lt. Governor Antonio Chewiwi and 2nd Lt. Governor Isidor Abeita. Governor Eddie Paul Torres was not present and no members of the Isleta Tribal Council attended. However, the effort to establish a charter school is not a tribal government initiative.

Instead, the persons organizing the effort to create a charter school are:

Joseph “Joey” Lucero;
Charlene Lucero;
Mike Jojola;
Heather Jojola;
Alicia Flores; &
Denise Zuni*.

These individuals are on the steering committee, which they created to lead the effort for the school. *Denise Zuni was previously known as Denise Chee. She’s the attorney for the Isleta Pueblo Housing Authority.

Charlene Lucero, Joseph “Joey” Lucero and Denise Zuni, are the founders of the proposed school. They are calling their school “Sh’eh Wheef Shu-Neen.” It will be for students in grades 7, 8, and 9. For the first year, the school will be capped at 75 students.

At the public hearing, the founders explained that they want a charter school that will emphasize the environment, Isleta’s native language (Tiwa) and Isleta’s culture and history in its curriculum.

Only five persons made comments at the hearing.  First to speak was Beverly Piro who posed several questions about the effort to start the school. She asked whether organizers surveyed the community about the proposal. She also questioned a comment from the founders claiming that students do not have a choice in their educational opportunities. The Commission, however, told Piro that the purpose of the hearing was to solicit comments, not entertain questions.

Bernadette Cotton was next and her concern was whether the community was even aware of the effort to start a charter school. She wanted to know whether the founders obtained community input for the school. Ms. Cotton also wanted to know what type of impact the charter school would have on the Tribe.

One parent spoke in favor of starting a charter school in Isleta. I did not hear her name. Nevertheless, she felt that a charter school would give parents more options for their children. Sheryl Hunt and Ulysses Abeita also offered comments to the Commission. But, I could not hear their statements.

After listening to the comments, Carolyn Shearman, Chair of the Commission, explained that their decision on whether to approve the creation of a charter school is based entirely on the application. Commission members then asked the founders various questions.

In response to the concerns from the public comments, a Commissioner asked the founders what type of efforts they made to inform the community about their proposed school.  Ms. Zuni explained that:

* they gave a presentation to the community on August 16th;

* they conducted a survey of parents through students that participate in the Tribe’s summer program;

* they conducted a survey online;

* the founders informed the Tribe that their planning meetings for the school were open to the community; &

* they informed the community through the tribal newsletter.

Commissioners asked where are they getting the money to fund the school. Denise Zuni explained that they plan to get the money from the Pueblo. Thereafter, the founders want to form a non-profit and seek additional funding from private sources to pay back the Pueblo.  In reply, Eugene Grant, the Vice-Chair of the Commission, suggested that the organizers obtain legal advice about that plan because he said, it would be an “illegal loan.”

The founders want the school to provide classes in the Tiwa language. However, the school must allow non-Indians and non-members to attend. So, a Commissioner asked how they planned to teach the children that do not know the Tiwa language.  Charlene Lucero replied that they planned to offer classes in Spanish as a second language alternative.

The Chair of Commission asked whether the founders had written partnership agreements in place with the Pueblo to provide services and funding to the proposed school.  Ms. Zuni explained that they did not, but, she said that they are working with the current tribal administration to address those issues in their business plan.

In closing, the Chair of the Commission explained that the public has until  August 25, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. to submit their comments about the proposed school.

Comments may be submitted via email to:


Written input can be mailed to:

Public Education Commission
c/o Linda Olivas
Charter School Division
300 Don Gaspar Ave.
Santa Fe, NM 87501

You may also hand deliver comments to:

Charter School Division
300 Don Gaspar Ave. Third Floor, Room 301-B
c/o Linda Olivas
Santa Fe, NM 87501


To view the application and related documents submitted to the NMPED, visit the following links:

Notice of Intent


Application for Sh’eh Wheef Shu-Neen


2014 Budget Documents for Sh’eh Wheef Shu-Neen


Financial Management Policies for Sh’eh Wheef Shu-Neen


Facilities Management Plan for Sh’eh Wheef Shu-Neen


All Documents filed with State



By Christopher Abeita

4 Replies to “NM Hearing on Proposed Charter School for Isleta”

  1. Charter school would be great if the tribe could work together. Parents need to be very involved in their children education. Our children are the next generation of tribe members, Governor, Council member and politicians. Our children our inheritance in this world.

    1. Based on the questions from the Commissioners from the State, I doubt that they will approve the Charter School this year. It’ll be very surprising, if they do.

      My concerns would be the annual cost for the charter school. Where is the money gonna come from? The founders made no effort to get money from private sources. They took the easy path and went straight to the Tribe and they made the same typical plea that everyone makes. “Give us money. It’s for the children.” Okay, but where is your plan? Who will implement the plan? How much will it cost?

      Does it really make sense to spend almost 2 million dollars for 75 kids to go to a charter school? What about all of the other children? Do we just say? “Tough Luck, they can stick it out in NM’s crappy public school system.” NM’s education system consistently ranks on the bottom of the heap nationally.

      Undoubtedly, Governor Torres and several council members will be eager to say that they support a “charter school” b/c it’s easy and popular to say. But, we need to face the harsh, cruel, cold realty that our Tribal officials do not have the slightest clue on how to ensure that our children are getting the best possible education. Look at all of the problems at Isleta Elementary. Why are parents unwilling to send their children to that school? Who is responsible for that mess? What specific actions did the school board for Isleta Elementary take to address the problems at the school? Now, the Tribe is in the process of taking over that school. So, how will the school be different once our Tribe takes over? Will the children receive a better education once our Tribe takes over? Will we just keep the same weak minded federal bureaucrats to run it?

  2. No to the charter school. If we want our children to have a first rate education and the ability to compete in mainstream society then we should send to private schools.

    Using our Tiwa language as a selling point is weak. Our traditional language should be taught at home. The classroom is best used for academics, developing social skills, and critical thinking.

    Isleta Elementary School (IES) is a white elephant. Basically it’s all dressed up with no place to go. The test scores and low academic achievement is reflected once IES student are funneled into public schools. Don’t get mad, it’s the truth! Speaking of the truth, the only graduation diploma some of our Isleta kids will earn will be at head start.

    If we really want to focus on the educational success on the next generation, IES – along with the Isleta Head Start – should begin a *STEM pilot project. *STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

    We don’t need the same weak minded running and ruining our children’s academic success.

    Goodness, Denise Chee-Zuni is an attorney for our Isleta Pueblo Housing Authority and she failed to do her legal due diligence.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I was not familiar with STEM until I read your comment. I found several videos on utube with elementary schools across the country that have STEM. It seems like an excellent program for our students. Our school should definitely look at bringing that program to Isleta.

      I agree that our language should be taught at home. We should be learning our language and culture from our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles etc. But, it’s not happening. The idea behind the charter school, according to the founders, was to create a language immersion program for kids. But, according to Denise Zuni, they had to take a back step from that idea. I believe it’s because the school must serve surrounding communities since it will be a public school.

      I see no problem with teaching our language in school. Our focal point, however, should be preparing our kids to compete in the outside world. To be competitive, we need a curriculum that emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics like you advocate. This would allow our kids to be competitive in whatever career they choose because they would develop their critical thinking skills as you state.

      Everyone will agree that our kids need a quality education. But, sadly, it’s not happening at Isleta Elementary. I don’t know why. Nevertheless, parents should be outraged and they should be demanding answers from the School Board, the Governor, and the Council etc. Until parents realize that their children are entitled to a quality education at Isleta Elementary, then that school will continue to flounder at the expense of those kids. And, all of us should be concerned for those children whether we are directly related to them or not.

What are your thoughts?