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Waldorf School Charts New Path

Santa Fe Waldorf School unveils plan to re-open as a charter school

The former Santa Fe Waldorf School, a private K-12 school which abruptly shut down two weeks before the start of the school year last August, has a possible path to re-open— this time as a publicly-funded charter school named the Sangre de Cristo Public Waldorf School.

The school is in the charter application process with the New Mexico Public Education Department, and intends to file its application by its due date of June 3.

If accepted this year, the school would re-open for the 2025-2026 school year, after a year of preparing the school to serve its students. On May 8, the renewed school’s founders held a town hall meeting where they revealed the future plans for the school to interested community members.

The building they sat in at the town hall—formerly the Waldorf School’s high school—will no longer be part of the school, as the school is in negotiations to sell the building to Santa Fe Preparatory School as a way to offset outstanding debt that caused the local Waldorf school to close last year.

Seven months after the Waldorf school shut down, parents finally received their tuition refunds.

Diane Livoti Perlman, who moved to Santa Fe in 2021 specifically to send her child to the Santa Fe Waldorf School, says she “never doubted” the school would refund parents.

“I understood what happened, and I trusted the school that I entrusted the education of my child to,” Livoti Perlman tells SFR. “It’s a very sad day to me that the school found itself in this position. I’m a firm believer in the [Waldorf] education.”

Jayita Sahni, a member of the Waldorf school’s board of trustees who is also named as the founder of the Sangre de Cristo Public Waldorf School in a notice of intent to apply as a charter school, explained to the town hall attendees that becoming a charter school that receives funds from the New Mexico Public Education Department could prevent the school from the financial peril it found itself in last year.

“As a public school, we don’t worry about that anymore,” Sahni said.

The application’s acceptance or rejection by the PED will be announced by the end of August. Sahni has been working on the application with additional founders Daniel Wendland, Matthew Burritt and Brianna Bassler. The charter school could either operate as a state charter school or partner with a local school district.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Hilario “Larry” Chavez says he “has not heard whether or not they will proceed and if they do, if they will do so as a state or district charter,” adding that no meetings between the Waldorf school and SFPS have taken place since their application submission with the Public Education Commission.

Because the former high school building is for sale, the school will at first re-open as a K-8 school, and in its first year would only serve grades K-4 before adding more grades in following years. If approved, the school plans to have a capacity of 108 students from kindergarten through fourth grade, and by the 2027-2028 school year would serve 208 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We didn’t think that we could write a K-12 application if we were selling the school. There’s so much uncertainty surrounding the building,” Sahni said. “We felt like we needed five years to stabilize and have a solid foundation before we could start planning for that, and it will need a significant amount of planning.”

Under this plan, the Sangre de Cristo Public Waldorf School would expand to add a high school when the charter application is due for renewal, at the end of the 2029-2030 school year. When asked about funding, Sahni said she believes that PED funding would cover these costs.

“A high school student brings in more per-student funding than a third to sixth [grade] student, and so those 104 students are going to bring in additional funds that will support their cohort of teachers, as well as additional administrative pieces,” she said. “It really helps us build what I think is a far more stable administration than what we had before.”

Perlman, who had to enroll her child at Santa Fe Public Schools this year, said she supports the school’s charter application “wholeheartedly,” despite her decision to keep her student in the public school system.

“I think it’s a fabulous evolution for the school. My child is going into eighth grade next year, and it was a very rocky transition to Santa Fe Public Schools, but she’s now settled and is doing well, so we are not going to disrupt her,” Perlman says. “But if I had younger children, we’d be back there in a heartbeat.”

But to become a public charter school, the Waldorf school must align itself with the state’s core curriculum standards, which will require some changes to the current Waldorf curriculum.

Zoe Wilcox, who would be the head of the proposed school’s academic team, told meeting attendees she can’t wait to “bring this pedagogy back to the Santa Fe community.”

“I am really grateful for the time and all these detailed questions PED gives us to think about,” Wilcox said. “How do we take this pedagogy with a tradition in independence and put it into the legal form of the public school system?”

The Santa Fe Waldorf School, like the other 1,200 Waldorf schools across the world, utilizes the education philosophy of 19th-century philosopher and occultist Rudolf Steiner, which bases itself around hands-on and outdoor learning with a focus on “imagination and creativity” alongside a philosophy of child development that the child “shifts every seven years.”

Wilcox says the Waldorf school has been working with the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education to develop the potential charter school while aligning as closely to the PED’s requirements as possible, and that there will be two major differences between Waldorf’s previous curriculum and what the public version of it would have to adopt: one in literacy and one in history.

The first difference, Wilcox says, is teaching students how to read “lower down,” although Wilcox did not specify how much earlier the students would be learning this. Typically, Waldorf schools do not directly teach students reading and phonics until second grade, and in earlier grades opt for oral reading instruction instead.

“We will have to bring really clear methodologies of phonics and learning how to read lower down,” Wilcox says. “That does not mean our kindergarteners will be sitting in desks and writing on their tablets…we will be very creative in how those standards come through the curriculum.”

Wilcox added that she and other Waldorf employees have gone through the PED’s list of literacy and reading standards, and says there are currently “three standards [the Waldorf school] cannot accept” without specifying which ones, and that in the application they will specify what they cannot do at certain grade levels and why.

The other major difference is New Mexico history. In public schools, New Mexico history is taught throughout all of the grades, whereas the Santa Fe Waldorf School previously only covered it in fourth grade and high school.

“The PED has it spread out through the grades, and we will condense it where we think it is appropriate,” Wilcox says. “We will have as much as we can fit in the very packed curriculum of eighth grade, and we will also have it in a high-content delivery in seventh grade, during the Age of Discovery.”

With the rest of the subjects like math and science, Wilcox says, “we feel we can meet all the core curriculum through the Waldorf lens.”

The Waldorf school will also have to conduct statewide iStation assessments for kindergarten through second students, and grades 3-8 will need to take the federal NM-MSSA test. Wilcox noted that the school would additionally be required to give dyslexia screening tests to all incoming first-graders, but that Waldorf will also voluntarily host another dyslexia screening “at the end of second grade,” because she anticipates that the Waldorf school’s later phonics and reading teachings mean that “90% of our students will be determined dyslexic.”

“At the end of second [grade], that’s when we can actually use that test for the reason it’s being required, we can see who’s going to need extra help,” Wilcox says. “We’re not going to let those students slide to fourth and fifth grade and wait to give them help at that point.”

In August, Sahni says, their application results will be returned along with “detailed feedback on every question answered on the application,” and that if the application is rejected, the Waldorf school plans to apply again the next year and integrate the feedback into the next application.

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