Dulce school district sign

The Dulce Independent School District sign welcomes back staff for the 2018-2019 school year. In the months spanning July 31, 2017 to Oct. 5, with the resignation of newly hired Dulce Elementary School principal Albert Martinez, 54 members of the District’s staff have resigned.

This story was originally published in the Rio Grande SUN on Aug. 16, 2018.

Dulce School District Superintendent Pamela Montoya received a notice Aug. 8 from the New Mexico Public Education Department stating Dulce Elementary School is out of compliance with the More Rigorous Intervention plan that was developed by the District and approved by the Department.

After receiving five consecutive F grades, and facing the potential of a sixth according to the notice, Dulce Elementary School was identified for More Rigorous Intervention, a strategy geared toward aiding under-performing schools in raising student performance.

Superintendent Pamela Montoya and Jicarilla Apache Nation President and Dulce Independent School Board President Levi Pesata did not return multiple requests for comment.

According to the notice from the Public Education Department, the District had until Aug. 14 to provide, in writing, all documentation of the plan that demonstrates full and complete adherence to all terms and conditions of the plan to the New Mexico Public Education Department.

On Aug. 14 the district was responsible for turning in:

• a list of teachers working at Dulce Elementary School and documentation demonstrating how they meet the criteria of a multi-year track record of highly effective or exemplary performance;

• documentation demonstrating that teacher compensation at Dulce Elementary School is significantly higher than at other schools in the District;

• documentation which lays out plans for teacher retention, recruitment and teacher rewards for student achievement;

• a finalized master schedule for Dulce Elementary School that reflects the increase to instructional time indicated in the Most Rigorous Intervention plan;

• documentation to support the agreed upon obligation that the Dulce Elementary School principal is compensated at a higher salary than other school principals in the district;

• any additional compensation in the form of incentives and bonuses and the comparative information for other principal salaries in the district;

• documentation that agreed upon teacher professional development and subsequent trainings and support needed to implement new curricula and assessments have been provided prior to the full first week of school;

• documentation clearly delineating the district’s role in coordinating any tribal and community partnerships;

• external resources and national partnerships and a revised Year One budget not to exceed $775,000 with indications of how the, up to $2 million in additional funding, will be spent in accordance with the plan.

The notice ends with the Department threatening to, if sufficient documentation is not received and the issues in the notice are not resolved, pursue all available alternative remedies. Darlene Gomez, General Council for the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Department-appointed member of the Dulce School Board, said, like many in the community, she feels the Department has already failed Dulce and that their intervention would be too little too late.

Gomez, who has been practicing law in New Mexico for 16 years, grew up in Lumberton, right outside of Dulce, and recently made the decision to move back to give back to her community. Gomez said she had a difficult time moving back to the area, after a heated divorce, because of the poor state of education at Dulce Elementary School.

In order to move back to the area, because of Dulce Elementary School’s poor rating and reputation, the arbitrator in Gomez’s custody case, Martha Kaiser, ruled that Gomez’s son had to attend St. Francis Parochial School in Lumberton or he had to remain in Albuquerque with his father.

“The arbitrator told us because the school District was in such disarray and that my child would not receive an adequate education,” Gomez said. “That in order for me to move back here, my son had to go to parochial school in Lumberton. When you have an arbitrator take mine and my child’s constitutional right away to free public school, that tells you something.”

Many parents and teachers in the community wonder how the Department is actually going to improve the District in the event that it intervenes. Parents, who wished to remain anonymous, don’t have a great deal of faith in the state to repair broken schools.

Despite the feeling of hopelessness in the community, in terms of the potential fate of Dulce Elementary School, most still believe in the community and the potential of their children and each other.

“People like Ferlinda Pesata and other community members volunteer and donate their time to help our kids,” Gomez said. “I encourage people to come to Dulce, come see our kids, don’t be swayed by reports or the reputations of a few people. This is a great and strong community. We all want what is best for our kids, every single person has good intentions in what they do.”

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