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Public Education Commission votes Alma d’ Arte was in breach of contract

Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Courtesy photo.
Peter Goodman is a commentator based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.


After a long public hearing, the New Mexico Public Education Commission accused the popular, art-centered charter school Alma d’arte of breach of contract, and placed it on an “Intervention Ladder” that could lead to closing the school, absent strong corrective action.

Alma Chief Academic Officer Adam Amador allegedly told a student assembly that the PEC was “biased.” (He ignored my repeated calls seeking to discuss this.)

Commissioners were startled by the Governing Council’s superficiality and ignorance. When the GC president couldn’t identify Alma’s “test coordinator,” commissioners called that “alarming,” adding that each board meeting should include a report by the test coordinator and critical questioning by the GC.

The PEC’s letter reamed out the GC for inadequate reporting and “unsatisfactory performance” regarding: low academic proficiency rates, lack of growth in reading, and low graduation rates; and handling students with disabilities, students’ rights, staff credentialing, employee rights, and fiscal management.

Alma has had years of poor administration, even embezzlement. It’s seen the Intervention Ladder before. An experienced educator got it somewhat back on track, as acting principal, but chose to remain retired. All agree the principal before Amador just wasn’t up to the job. And stopped doing it while still there. Then Amador’s hiring was controversial.

The GC not only seems unfamiliar or uncomfortable with some of its responsibilities and required procedures, but is somewhat insular, not very diverse, and short on folks with extensive experience or expertise in art or education. In an arts-focused school where many students and staff are LBGTQ, the GLC’s president and immediate past-president, are highly active in a political party that has frequently disfavored or disapproved of unconventional genders or sexuality. Several incidents seemed to show that discomfort.

The PEC reamed out the GC for abandoning public input (which the GC immediately restored) and lacking an appropriate grievance procedure for parents and students. Those are particularly urgent when Dr. Amador has in various ways dismissed or driven out teachers, “involuntarily disenrolled” numerous students, banned from school grounds or threatened some parents, and even called the police. Even assuming all his actions were justified, or justifiable, they’ve caused a storm of pain and anger. A strong parents’ group has been so highly critical of recent actions, and of Amador, that there’s a non-violent (verbal) civil war ongoing. Absent a fair grievance procedure, naturally that makes public comment rather brutal for the GC.

The GC has experienced rapid turnover and reportedly hasn’t kept state authorities fully informed. The GC seems to have repeatedly violated best transparency practices and even the Open Meetings Act. Parents complain of a period when the website was down, and meetings weren’t announced sufficiently in advance; but, before and after that time, meeting notices appear highly defective. Unlike with most public bodies, neither the agenda nor the minutes, as posted, contain the contracts and policies to be discussed and decided. Documents say, “see attached,” with no attachment. Remarkably, I’m told that in recent memory GLC-members often received contracts on the meeting day – or not at all, without asking specially! The by-laws say they should receive such materials 72-hours in advance, as the public should. How could a parent or teacher comment meaningfully on the new “see attached” policy or evaluate an invisible, unattached contract?

Whether this is woeful ignorance or a complete disregard for state laws, it’s not effective administration of Alma for students. [Next week’s column looks deeper into Alma’s current situation.]

Peter Goodman's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.