At the current 2005 winter session, the Education Committee will present changes to Titles 10 and 2 for adoption by the Navajo Nation Council.
At the beginning of our term in 2003, the members of the committee had a long discussion about what we could accomplish within the next four years that would improve tribal education and the educational services provided to our Navajo students on and off the reservation.
During this debate, Committee Chairperson Leonard Chee, Andy R. Ayze and myself brought to the table our thoughts based on our previous experiences as committee members. Committee members Lee Jack Sr., Katherine Benally, Ida M. Nelson, David Tom and Edison Jones each shared their vision on how we could improve the quality of our children’s education.
This discussion resulted in the Education Committee reaffirming the need for the tribe to revisit our tribal education laws. We established amending Title 10 as a Committee and a Navajo Nation Council goal. Title 10 had been last revised in 1984 when the Navajo Nation Council under the leadership of President Peterson Zah adopted the Navajo Education Policies.
As a legislator, and through many years serving on the Education Committee, I know about the educational challenges facing us as a nation. Navajo Nation education is unique, unlike other Indian tribes and states, because our land and schools are situated within three states.
It has been my experience that for too long now, the federal government and the three states have assumed much of the authorities and responsibilities of educating our Navajo children by imposing their own BIA or state standards and laws. These outside entities have shown us numbers that say that our children are not performing to their standards and that there exists a huge academic achievement gap between Navajo students and non-Navajo students.
We are now faced with federal laws that threaten to cut education funds and/or restructure schools if students and schools are not performing. The Navajo Nation can no longer accept the current state of tribal education, nor should we be a defensive player regarding the educational services provided to our schools and students.
The proposed changes to Title 10 are a major step for the Navajo Nation to be a proactive player by taking ownership of our children’s education. It is necessary that the Navajo Nation refine the tribal education laws to strengthen our inherent right to oversee and fully participate in the education of Navajo students and the operation of schools.
A significant change to Title 10 is the proposal to create an 11-member Navajo Board of Education that would be situated within the Executive Branch and would appoint a Superintendent of Schools to oversee the Department of Diné Education. The Division of Diné Education will be renamed the Department of Diné Education, which will work with the board, to perform like a state department of education, such as developing classroom instructions, standards and testing tools that is uniquely Navajo.
The proposal includes a tribal mandate that all schools serving Navajo students disclose student and school data to the Navajo Education Information System (NEIS). This will allow for the Navajo Nation to analyze student achievement and be able to help schools to improve performance by developing curriculum that embraces Navajo language and culture.
At public hearings held throughout the Navajo Nation, the Education Committee and the Division of Diné Education received support from the Navajo public regarding the need for the tribe to assume more responsibilities in overseeing and regulating the education of Navajo students, and for schools to be held accountable in ensuring academic achievement.
There were some misconceptions about the proposed amendments; such as the tribe taking full control of public schools on the Navajo Nation and that the creation of the Board of Education would eliminate the authority of local community school boards. Local community school boards will continue to exist, and their responsibilities to exercise local control will be strengthened.
The amendments do not allow for the tribe to take control of public schools, but allow the Board of Education to work in cooperation with states to develop memorandums and/or cooperative agreements or understandings to adequately address the education of Navajo students in public schools on or near the reservation.
The proposed amendments to Title 10 would not have been possible without the work of many people. I want to take this opportunity to first thank DODE Director Leland Leonard and his staff at the Division of Diné Education for their hard work in formulating the amendments, educating the Navajo people about the proposal, and taking on the responsibilities and authorities of functioning like a state department of education on behalf of the tribe, our students and schools.
The Education Committee also thanks each educator, school personnel, school board member, parent, tribal leader and the Navajo people who provided input by taking time to offer comments at the public hearings. The initial and final product of this important legislation would not be possible also without the work of each member of the Education Committee and the staff from the Legislative Branch, including legislative advisor Darlene Womochil and attorney Frank Seanez.
The Education Committee also honors and extends gratitude to Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and Vice President Frank Dayish for their work and support of the proposed amendments.
In conclusion, I want to thank my colleagues, each member of the Navajo Nation Council, for participating in making history in Navajo education by adopting the proposed amendments. Your thorough review, active participation in meaningful debate and approval of the legislation is critical for the future of our nation and children.
(Council Delegate Wallace Charley is Vice Chairperson Navajo Nation Education Committee.)