To the editor:
President Ben Shelly and Vice President Rex Lee Jim failed to come up with ideas to improve the Dineh Nation and the lives of average Navajo citizens in their speeches last week during the Fall NCA Education conference in Albuquerque.
Upgrading the nation's access to technology and understanding our culture and the historical struggles of Navajo people are commendable goals that our two top leaders have suggested are major goals for bolstering the Navajo education system. And who could possibly oppose our children learning to speak Navajo and know Navajo culture?
These speeches were a chance for our leaders to present a grand vision for the Dineh Nation to move forward and come to terms with the hard realities Navajo schools face. The occasion has to be counted as a major missed opportunity.
The biggest threat to Navajos' prosperity and political viability is the brain drain and endless poor school leadership, yet the president and vice president offered no reforms for ensuring strong school leadership development and for electing top-quality school board members.
A case in point is the Window Rock School District. The board recently rewarded the superintendent with a $50,000 raise even though the district has failed over a period of seven years to make adequate yearly progress (AYP). And the district received a grade of "D" over these years, yet the board claims she is doing a good job. Reforming the Department of Dine Education to a status of a state department of education might help to correct these examples of poor leadership. It won't be easy and maybe it is not doable at all in this current climate of faint leadership.
On these issues, the president and vice president offered no specifics, and were less than candid on how much new leadership or sacrifice is needed to get the job done.
It is hard to imagine that the programs they put forward, such as technology-driven schools and allowing students to use cell phones in the classrooms to do research can be achieved without requiring Navajo parents to spend more of their hard earned funds.
And how do they plan to get all this done?
Offering a set of worthy goals to a body of Navajo educators in a major speech is all well and good, but leadership requires a plan to get the job done and the Department of Dine Education officials aren't likely to salute and obey just because they say these are good ideas.
Unfortunately, the speeches were long on tribal politics and ideas and short on specifics. The only part that seemed to go over well was their presence at the conference, which sadly only reminded us that an election is on the horizon.
Making progress on improving Navajo schools may be an even greater challenge than fixing the U.S debt, but with strong leadership and real planning, neither is insurmountable.
Window Rock, Ariz.
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