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Founder/Head of School

Terri Bissonette, EdD., Gnoozhekaaning Anishinaabe, is the Founder and Head of School of AIAD. As an educator with over 15 years of experience, Dr. B’s expertise encompasses K-12 literacy curriculum and instruction; Indian Education with an emphasis on pedagogy, closing achievement gaps, and building and sustaining effective school cultures. She also specializes in resiliency education and restorative best practices for schools serving students who have experienced trauma (especially within the context of historical trauma).

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Rachel Bachmann


Rachel Bachmann (Jacobs) is an enrolled Dakota member of the Sissiton-Wahpeton Oyate from Sisstion, SD.  She was raised in Wyoming.  She received her undergraduate degree in Secondary Education in English from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, SD.  After, she returned to her hometown in Gillette to teach and raise her family.  In 2008, Rachel obtained her Master of Public Administration degree and moved to Denver.  She taught MS and HS English, was a teacher effectiveness coach,  CTE Director, and Assistant Principal in her 14 year tenure at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College in Far Northeast Denver.  She also completed the National Principals Academy Fellowship from the Relay Graduate School.   Rachel has raised 3 children of her own, all of who are in college or working in their chosen fields.  She enjoys hiking and being in nature, being at school, golfing (but only to drive the cart) and being with people.  Rachel is very excited about the AIAD community and looks forward to the learning and connections in the upcoming school year.  

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Mark de la 

Dean of Students/Math

Mark has been teaching math since 2004.  He graduated from West High School in 1995 and then graduated from Metro State University with a BA in Accounting in 2005.  Even though he went to school for accounting, he chose to become a math teacher in the same community he grew up in.  His passion is about being a positive role model to his community and family.  He and his family are part of Grupo Tlaloc, Danza Azteca, here in Denver.  He believes his identity as a Chicano helped him become who he is today and would like to help the youth around him (his students) to find their identity to also help them find who they want to be.



Family Liaison

Hello, my name is Jane Vela, this is my second year here at American Indian Academy of Denver. I am originally from TX, but have been in Colorado for the last 30 years.. I have 2 amazing sons, 1 grandbaby . I come from a large family that mostly lives in TX.

I am the registrar and Family Liaison here at the American Indian Academy of Denver. I have been working in education for over 25 years here in the Denver area. I feel very blessed to be a part of this school. 



Multilingual Education Administrator/English Language Development

Julia Fochtman was born and raised in Colorado and attended DePaul University in Chicago, where she studied Anthropology. After graduating, she spent five years overseas, mostly in South Korea and a year in Australia. She returned to Colorado in 2019 to attend the University of Denver, where she received a masters in Curriculum and Instruction for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners.


Julia is beginning her seventh year in education, and very excited to do so at the American Indian Academy of Denver. 

In her free time she likes to travel, spend time being active outdoors, cook, and be with her loved ones.

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Office Manager

My name is Nadine and I am the Office Manager at AIAD. This is my 24th year working in schools as an Office Manager, and I am grateful to be at this school to share my wisdom and experience. I was born in Denver and raised in New Mexico. I am fluent in English and Spanish, and have a BA in Business Management and Administration. I am a proud grandmother to 13 grandchildren.  In my free time I like to spend time with my family and friends, travel, and ride my motorcycle.


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Indigenizing Curriculum Developer

Laura Arndt, of European ancestry, was raised in Missouri, moved to Colorado for college, and never left. Laura has consulted with American Indian Academy of Denver since its inception as co-developer of indigenized STEAM, professional learning facilitator, instructional coach, and whatever is needed to help the staff and students thrive. As founder and executive director of Global GreenSTEM,  Laura works with schools and organizations across the country and internationally to create purposeful culturally relevant and responsive curriculum, programs, and professional learning experiences that empower both teachers and youth to be change makers. She feels it’s a humble honor to be co- creating these experiences at American Indian Academy of Denver. 

Laura loves being anywhere in nature, traveling to learn about places and people, and creating fun adventures with her family and dog Sade. Sade, often accompanying Laura to school, has become a support dog who loves all the student/staff pets, hugs, and walks.


Sophia Bagola

Lakota Language & Culture

Sophia is a member of the Oglala Lakota from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Sophia has been living in Denver for the past 15 years and has a BA degree in Political Science from Metropolitan State University.  Sophia is committed to Lakota language learning and teaching at The American Indian Academy of Denver. 

Sophia also has over 10 years experience in the field of education.




My name is Mariano Senter. I will be teaching 8th and 9th grade Humanities. I am excited, humbled and honored to be a part of this beautiful community. I look forward to being of service and doing what I can to break down barriers--while building confidence and skills.

Melissa Moore


Art Teacher

Melissa is happy to join the community at AIAD, and is honored to hold the position of art teacher. After acquiring her BFA from the University of Mississippi and an MFA from Northern Illinois University, she entered her former career as a scenic artist in professional regional theater. She worked at various theater companies in Arizona, Wisconsin, Alabama and eventually landed in Colorado where she decided to stay. In her free time she loves making art, gardening, home-brewing, traveling, cooking and spending time with friends. She has two great kids, one in high school and one in elementary school. Melissa looks forward to getting to know the students in her art classes.



Middle School STEAM

After a triple science undergraduate degree, a master's in Geology from school of Mines and the beginnings of a PhD programme at UC Berkeley, I decided that education is where my heart is. My life's goal is to use the gifts I have been given to make a difference in the lives of our next generation.


In Colorado, I have taught pupils from 6th grade all the way to College Sophomores. In between appointments, I have worked for a number of relief organisations in places such as Nepal and Kerala, Kenya and the Caribbean and served minorities such as Bushmen in Botswana and Aborigenees in Australia.


As a new team member here at AIAD, it is my privilege to work with Native Americans for the first time. I am excited to get started because I find that pupils tend to teach us as much as we teach them if we are open to the experience. Each individual presents a special 'puzzle' for me to solve: what do they need in order to succeed?  How do they learn? And if, at first, we don't succeed, my challenge is to work out what else we could try. Learning is a lifelong journey and a thrilling adventure.

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Founding Dine’ Culture and Language Teacher

Ya’at’ééh, shik’éí dóó shidine’é. Shí eí Anthony Crank yinishyé. Shí eí Tł’ááshchí’í nishłį́, Tá'ch’íí’nii bashishchiin,Tábąąhá dashicheii, Tł’ízí łaní dashinalí, Ákót’éego diné nishłį́.

Greetings, I am Anthony Crank. I grew up in Montezuma Creek, Utah on the Navajo Nation. I am fluent in Navajo and grew up in a Diné community.  In 2000, I received my BA in Music from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I also studied the Navajo and Japanese languages. I was a Navajo bilingual teacher in Farmington, New Mexico, and then taught music at Navajo Preparatory School from 2001 - 2006. Most recently, I have been a music teacher in Denver, Longmont and Boulder. I live in Boulder with my wife, my two daughters, and my mother-in-law. I am very happy to join the American Indian Academy of Denver community.



Middle School STEAM

Anpetu Kin Le, Cante waste napechiyuzapi. Lakoliya Owa Unspe Ota Wi na wasichuya Destiny Leftwich emaciyapi ksto. Lakota winyan miye. Heska-Othunwahe el wati. Waziahanhan ematanhan. STEAM waunspewichawakhiye. 


Greetings friends and family! I am offering you all a warm and heartfelt handshake. My name is Destiny Leftwich. I am a Lakota woman coming from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I am currently living in Denver and I am beyond excited to teach STEAM at the American Indian Academy of Denver. 



Middle School Humanities

Hi, my name is Marc-Paul Johnsen, and I’m teaching Middle School Humanities at AIAD. I was born and raised in Denver. I attended MSUD and graduated from University of Northern Colorado with a BA in English. I then attended Iliff School of Theology and graduated with an MA in Religious Studies/Philosophy. I taught English Language Arts (and almost every other class except math) from 2005-2018 at La Academia de la Gente in Denver and was also Vice Principal for 8 years. From 2018-2022, I taught computer science at several charter schools in Denver and Aurora in a program to create more equity in computer science especially for BIPOC students and those who identify as female. I am excited to get back to the classroom full time and be with the learning community at AIAD.


Angela Eagle (Co-Chair), Sicangu Lakota.

Angela is a long time Denver community member who brings office administration experience to our board. She is also a grandmother of two DPS students.

Nicholas Martinez (Co-Chair).

Nicholas grew up in Denver and is the Co-Founder of Transform Education Now (TEN), an organization committed to advocating for and empowering disenfranchised parents, families, and communities. Nicholas brings expertise in parent and community organizing to our board.

Kelley Mitchell (Secretary), Dineh.

Kelley has been working and advocating for AIAD as an original founding committee member since 2017. She works for American Indian College Fund and brings a higher education focus to the board.

Brendan Morrison (Treasurer), Tsimshian Nation 

Brendan was born in Ketchikan, Alaska the area where his dad’s family is from. Shortly after he was born his dad joined the Navy, so he grew up traveling a lot in a military family and being exposed to various Indigenous cultures. Brendan received his degree in Political Science and Public Administration from the University of North Dakota and now works as licensed financial professional brokered with New York Life. 

Sena Harjo (Founding Director), Seminole/Choctaw/Creek.

Sena is a long time Denver community member who brings subject matter expertise and community networking to our board. She is also a early childhood educator and a doctoral student at the University of Colorado at Denver.

Anne Chapman (Founding Director), Osage.

Anne is the former founding principal of DCIS-Fairmont, taking that DPS school from red to green in one year. She brings school administration and school start-up expertise to our board.

Michael Frandina (Founding Director).

Michael is an attorney who brings over 10 years of legal experience, especially in tribal and environmental law, to our board. He is also the father of two DPS students.

WaziHanska Cook (Founding Director), Oglala Lakota.

WaziHanska is the Senior Managing Director of Teach for America’s Native Alliance. He has over 30 years of experience in the field of education, specializing in educating Indigenous youth. WaziHanska is also a former president and former board member of National Indian Education Assn.

Lori Ventimiglia (Founding Director).

Lori is the Director of Advancement for the Tipi Raisers, a cross-cultural youth serving organization. Lori is also the former Director of New Schools Development at Colorado League of Charter Schools. She is also the founder of a successful Colorado charter school.


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