POLACCA, Ariz. - Hopi Jr./Sr. High School Governing Board members talked a teacher out of resigning at the end of the third quarter by agreeing to buy more classwork materials and addressing discipline issues.
The board held the discussion during its monthly meeting March 8 in the library.
In other action, the board voted to hire James Cruice as superintendent starting April 4 and then voted unanimously to table giving contracts to administrators and program managers until the incoming superintendent can give his input.
Danaher Dempsey, a math teacher at Hopi Junior High, joined the staff in December and started teaching full time in January. He had intended to stay for years, but sent the board a letter saying he was resigning because classroom material that he was promised was never ordered and classroom discipline issues were not addressed.
Hopi Junior High Principal Fernando Madrid said Dempsey does a good job, but the students push his buttons. Dempsey said he taught at many other schools and when students were disruptive they would be removed.
"Here it doesn't make any difference," he said.
Dempsey said he called parents and wrote up students only to be told that some punishment might happen to the student next time.
His other concern, he said, was that there was no math curriculum and nothing for kids who had skills below their grade level.
Madrid questioned what would happen to the students if Dempsey left at the end of the quarter. Dempsey said that he could put lesson plans together.
Board Vice President Valerie Kooyaquaptewa said she understood Dempsey's concerns.
"We need something to retain staff," she said. "We can't afford to lose teachers like this."
Laverne Lomakema, a math teacher at Hopi High School, echoed Dempsey's concerns that the school lacks a math curriculum. She said she currently follows Northland Pioneer College's math curriculum.
"It's easier to teach when you have something to follow," she said.
Lomakema said the school acquired a pacing guide for its math department six years ago, but that pacing guide is now outdated.
"How can we help kids when we don't have a curriculum to follow?" she asked.
Board member Ivan Sidney said the school principals need to be in the classroom and if there's a discipline problem they need to go and help.
Board member Romalita Laban said teachers sign contracts and should fulfill their promises.
Dempsey responded that contracts are a two way street when commitments are made to teachers that are not fulfilled.
Sidney called upon Interim Superintendent Charles Gover and Madrid to meet with Dempsey to work out any problems.
Board member Steve Bahnimptewa broke the logjam when he asked Dempsey if he would stay if the classroom materials were purchased.
"I can spearhead this for you. If you leave now, we will be lost," he said.
Business Manager Patrick Secakuku and Madrid agreed to make sure the materials were purchased quickly.
Discipline remained an issue. Interim Hopi High School Principal Harvey Honyouti said he gets more referrals from one teacher at the junior high than from all the other junior high teachers combined.
Sidney said the issue is not just in Dempsey's classroom. He said administrators are paid to make sure discipline policies are followed.
"We need you to stay and help," Sidney told Dempsey.
Dempsey agreed to stay at least until March 28 to see if the classroom materials were ordered and the discipline issues addressed. The board voted to table accepting Dempsey's resignation.
Special education concerns
Hopi High staff members continued to bring concerns about the special education department to the board.
Laverne Lomakema, the math teacher, said she met with Special Education Director Kym Dashee and other staff members, but continues to have concerns that need to be addressed about full inclusion of special education students into the mainstream classroom.
Lomakema said she has to be creative about teaching her math classes because some special education students have been mainstreamed into her classroom.
"Some were brought in during the middle of the semester and procedures need to be put in place," she said.
Lomakema said she has been addressing the board as a teacher and parent for five months, but they are still at the same place. She said her options are now wide open because if her daughter cannot get the services she needs here then she has to go somewhere else.
"I'm disappointed as a teacher and parent," she said.
Gover said the issue has been delegated to Dashee.
James Lomakema, a government teacher and Laverne's husband, said he has been coming to the school board about their daughter and other special education issues since last year.
"We need a thorough look at policies and procedures because they're not being followed," he said.
He questioned what it would take to get something done.
Celia Sewingyouma, a special education teacher, invited the school board to come to her classroom. She said special education department staff have tough jobs, they want to revamp things and sometimes they are met with resistance.
"Come see what we go through every day," she said.
Sidney said the board has to respond.
"Let's work on a way to give a response," he said.
The Lomakemas gave their comments during the call to the public when the board can direct someone to address the issue, but they cannot take action or vote on the issue if it's not an agenda item.
Close Up problems worked out
Bo Dewangyumptewa, a student at Hopi High, brought concerns about the Close Up trip to the board. Close Up is a federal non-profit that brings students from throughout the country to Washington D.C. to learn about the federal government.
Dewangyumptewa was concerned that the student body was not made aware of the opportunities for Close Up.
Myles Beam became the advisor for this trip in December and had to act quickly so he chose from his English honors students.
The board commended Dewangyumptewa for bringing the issue to them, but they also commended Beam for taking on the task as advisor with little time for preparation and without a stipend. The last Close Up advisor stepped down when the administration removed the stipend.
Dewangyumptewa and Beam appeared to leave the meeting in agreement. Two students were removed from this year's trip because they had been on the trip previously so two spots opened up for other students. Beam also established other policies and procedures for next year's Close Up trip.