Hopi School Board approves contracts, hears complaints about special ed department

POLACCA, Ariz. - Hopi Jr./Sr. High School (HJSHS) Governing Board members approved contracts for teachers and classified staff, but delayed approving contracts for administrators and program managers until a special board meeting that took place April 27.

The board took the action April 12 during their regularly scheduled monthly meeting in the school's conference room.

The Governing Board wanted to give recently hired Superintendent James Cruice time for input about the renewal for contracts for administrators and program managers.

Cruice said his focus is on curriculum and instruction so he needs a team to help with those areas.

"I need people who will work with me for the positive change for teaching of the children," he said. "Children are number one and education of the children is number one. Give me a team that will help me get there."

Cruice said the the school's AzMerit scores are not good.

"I'm confident that we can do better. Give me the best and I'll work with them," he said.

During the call to the public, the board heard several complaints about the special education department.

Jessica Erales, a special education paraprofessional, said on Jan. 8 she had an altercation with another special education worker. She asked for the paperwork to file a complaint, but never received it.

"I know I'm an outsider, not a native, but these kids need help," she said. "Something has to happen for positive change."

Laverne Lomakema, a math teacher at the school and parent of a special needs child, said she has been asking since the start of the school year for her daughter's needs to be addressed. She said on March 30 she asked to be placed on the agenda for this board meeting, but was not accommodated.

Lomakema said she's been seeking administrative remedies all school year. She talked about her husband James, who also teaches at the school, being placed on administrative leave for advocating for their child.

She also said teachers are told not to leave their room unattended when students are in the room, yet she was told that her daughter is her responsibility after 3:30 p.m. She said that if other students miss their bus that the school finds a way to get them home.

Lomakema said her daughter has not been provided with technology that she was supposed to receive to help her with her classwork.

"I'm tired of coming here every month. I wanted to be placed on the agenda so I could get answers," she said. "I'm tempted to bring my daughter here so you could look in her eyes and tell her why you are failing her."

Her husband James talked about being put on leave by then-interim Principal Harvey Honyouti. He said Honyouti wasn't at the incident that caused him to be placed on leave. James said he has since been cleared.

"My first responsibility here is to the students and I didn't feel I did anything wrong," he said.

James said he has been an educator for 40 years and teaching at Hopi Jr./Sr. High for 10 years. He said when he was placed on leave that he asked for the allegations and was told that could not be given to him.

"There's something terribly wrong with what happened to me," he said.

In a case not involving special education, substitute teacher Eugene Secakuku said he was placed on administrative leave for something he didn't do.

HJSHS Governing Board President Edgar Shupla told Secakuku that his case is going through the administrative process and the board could not listen in case Secakuku's case came before them.

Wallace Youvella Sr., a former board member and current member on the Hopi Tribal Council, also spoke during the call to the public. He welcomed the new superintendent, but told the board there isn't much positive going on at the school right now.

Youvella said he hopes this governing board does not resist change.

"Hopefully changes occur for the better of the Hopi students and all other students," he said.

Theron Honyumptewa, who used to work at the school as a security guard, has reapplied. He said he has more experience than other applicants. He said he has not received any answers why he has yet to be hired.

Honyumptewa welcomed the new superintendent and told him it was a shame that there are so many problems.

"With your leadership, hopefully some changes can be made," he said.

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