Community-led design is the model.

NISN supports leaders in Indigenous communities to develop a network of schools providing rigorous academic curriculum aimed at college preparation while also promoting Indigenous culture, identity, and community investment.

This is not a cookie-cutter approach to schools. Each community has different assets and desires for their next generation, so fellows and schools must be in tune to what those needs are and responsive to them. 

Initial Planning & Team Development

  • At least a full year of intensive planning prior to school launch by Founder/ Principal & small start-up team

  • Having a mentor school for technical assistance and as liaison

  • Mapping out and capitalizing assets of organizations/ leaders with common vision

  • Spend significant time researching, gathering inputs from, and building partnerships with organizations doing quality work in Native education, with local businesses, and with leaders in government

Community Engagement

  • Community Advisory Council-Each group had a specific areas of expertise to participate in planning and development of the school’s curriculum and programs: Wellness Philosophy, Curriculum Development, Governance Council, Family Outreach, Out of School Time /Community Partnerships.
  • Having forums and focus groups led by a full-time outreach organizer / facilitator to engage the community and parents and garner their support

Governance & Leadership

  • Integrating the community in school leadership and organization

    • NACA's leadership and organization structure explicitly integrates the community into school’s ongoing program development and activities (e.g., Governing Council, Tribal Relations Dean, Director of Enrollment and Community Relations, Student Support Program Director, Director of OST, External Partnerships)

  • School serving as the leader in convening the community with active communication, programs, and events NACA hosts, among other events, an annual Pow-wow and Feast Day drawing over one thousand individuals to the campus on a twice-yearly basis.


  • Integrated-curriculum combining culture, community, and wellness philosophy with rigorous academics

  • Curriculum Advisory Teams along critical elements of curriculum focus

  • Advisory Program providing every student with an Advisor who is an advocate for the student and allows the students to develop a “positive relationship with an adult”

  • “Wellness Wheel” as a framework/ tool for ensuring students’ holistic wellness and growth

Program & Services

  • School as a hub for robust community partnerships for success of students and families
  • For example, NACA works with many community partners through various programs supporting students, families and neighborhood community with some partners co-located or having the staff based within NACA campus
    • All programs clearly aligned with NACA’s mission and wellness philosophy
This is a chance to revitalize community and culture, foster
cultural competence, and create lasting positive change.
— Kayla Begay (Diné), NISN Fellow and Founder of the Dził Dit Ł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance (DEAP) in Navajo, NM