Each school district was allowed a half hour for group presentation on best practices.
While some districts chose student or staff presentation, the majority had their school superintendent present their school’s goals/objectives and successful strategies for accomplishing higher performance.
All of these goals utilized a native perspective in the strategy for student success.
TCUSD chose to feature Mildred Smith, a TC High senior and member of the Navajo Nation, during their slotted half hour segment. The TC high presentation in Navajo-English was presented along with persuasive teaching associated with significant improvement in AIMS testing at TC high school.
In addition, TCUSD officials mentioned that TC Primary School is included in GreatSchools.NET, a listing of exemplary schools in the nation. TC Primary has its kindergarten through second grade school children performing in the 40s, 50s and 60s on their SAT 9 testing in language arts, reading and math, while learning to read and write in the Navajo language.
The best practices utilized at TC High include persuasion-teaching, a highly structured five-paragraph essay format using enriched resources in Native American literature. This method of teaching brings students to a standard that is both competent and coherent, if formulaic. While students are allowed to remain independently creative in content and expression, it also has formal structure.
These teaching processes are intended to explore, develop and promote authentic assessment with native students. The use of culturally responsive (content-sensitive) and linguistically appropriate (process sensitive) instrumentation more accurately reflects native American students intellectual capacities, abilities and competence.
Another example of a best practice at a native school district is at Whiteriver Unified School District. All of the Whiteriver schools are the “maintaining level” with five of them in the “improving” category.
Whiteriver District implemented its changes through a governing board focus on student achievement and an overall district mission of “We Educate Children.” According to Whiteriver’s Dr. Randall, it is a board-driven “no more excuses” school reform, not without its detractors of controversial decisions.
Whiteriver aligned its assessment plans and their curriculum to state standards and AIMS, creating a significant percentage increase from previous year’s testing. Whiteriver also implemented an early childhood coordination with all of its Head Starts, Montessori and day care centers. It also has a policy that all administrators must be in the classrooms daily.
Sacaton District, under the direction of Dr. Leon Ben, also engaged its district in a multiple year improvement, beginning with intensive parent involvement, GED offerings and opportunities. Its staff is also focusing on beating the [AIMS] test, along with a “home grown” teaching grant for staff development through certification of local people.
Similar to Whiteriver, Sacaton has also initiated a four and a half-day schedule, using Friday afternoon for staff development.
Kayenta Unified, with Superintendent William Allsbrook, is also aligning its curriculum and strategizing with staff to have students do well on their testing and revamp teacher evaluations. Kayenta is also spearheading a consortia based vocational technological program with several school districts.
Dr. Phil Bluehouse pointed out Chinle District has designed and is undertaking a major revamp in its curriculum alignment and teaching using the traditional Dine’ Educational philosophy. Attendees commended the district for using a truly original indigenous philosophy of education for their students.
Ganado Unified with Dr. Pete Belleto has initiated a higher education outreach with ASU with long-term plans to build a college in Ganado. One of their schools has consistently been designated as an A+ School by the Arizona Educational Foundation. The district has several on-going initiatives to improve testing performance.
\Pinon, Sanders and Red Mesa Districts also shared their on-going efforts/initiatives in curricular alignment, enhanced teaching practices, parent and community involvement, professional staff development, after-school programs and language/culture programs.
As a group, the conference attendees voiced a universal opinion that “traditional languages of Native Americans are an integral part of their cultures and identities and form the basic medium for the transmission, and thus the survival of Native American cultures, literature, histories, religions, political institutions and values.”
To that end, all of the participants felt that the United States has the responsibility to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival of these unique cultures and languages.
All the participants wanted to encourage all institutions of elementary, secondary and higher education, where appropriate to include Native American languages in their curriculum and to grant proficiency in Native American languages the same full academic credit as proficiency in foreign languages.
The next session for follow-up to this conference in tentatively scheduled tentatively schedule to take place at the Arizona State University –Center for Indian Education, on April 15 and 16.
Conference attendees will be able to learn in greater detail about numerous exemplary practices in “underperforming schools,” as viewed from native perspectives.
The theme of the next conference will be “Connecting Native Communities, Exemplary School Practices, ADE and the Office of Indian Education Programs-Year 2003.”
For more information, questions may be directed to either Victor Begay at ASU/CIE (480-727-7869) or Dr. Harold G. Begay at TCUSD (928-283-1077).