POLACCA, Ariz. — Laurel Poleyestewa, who will take her seat on the Hopi Jr/Sr High School (HJSHS) Governing Board in January, said she wants to make sure the school has a curriculum, make sure that the teachers are certified and see how the budget relates to students’ needs.
Poleyestewa, who worked at HJSHS for 24 years, left at the end of last school year because she felt that the administration at that time did not support her role as an academic counselor. The administration has since changed. She worked 13 years as a teacher and 11 years as an academic counselor at HJSHS. She now works at Keams Canyon Elementary School as an academic counselor.
“I am excited and looking forward to the challenge that I will be facing,” she said.
Poleyestewa won the school board seat in November when she defeated Romalita Laban. Poleyestewa will take her seat on the board Jan. 10 at the next school board meeting.
“From my 24 years of experience at the school, I know that so much needs to be done for the education of the students,” she said.
Poleyestewa said she has three areas of concern. The first is making sure that a curriculum is in place that will improve test scores.
“I’m not sure if Common Core is being applied. I don’t know if the WEA scores (standardized test scores) are being used,” she said.
Although the state or national tests are based on English and math, Poleyestewa said WEA should be used throughout the school.
“It can be applied in all classrooms so students can get better scores,” she said. “Elementary schools are using them in all classrooms.”
Her second concern is lack of certified teachers.
“It’s important to have qualified staff so we know how to teach in a proper manner. Not just having somebody in there with a college degree, but without proper certification,” she said. “We are still in a critical state. We don’t want to take just whoever is available. There are resources out there if we try.”
She said if the school hires someone who doesn’t have proper certification that they need to be given a deadline for getting that certification.
“That hasn’t happened in the past,” she said.
Poleyestewa said the administration should work closely with the three state universities education departments to recruit students when they graduate in the field of education. She credited former Hopi High School Principal Glenn Gilman for attending the college fairs to get new teachers.
“We need a huge effort. We need to start ahead of time, not at the last minute,” she said.
Poleyestewa said there needs to be an effort to hold onto teachers because there has been a large turnover for the past two or three years. She said one way to retain teachers is to include them in the decision making process. She said a lot of decisions come down from the administration without teacher input.
“The attitude has been that you’re going to do this whether you like it or not,” she said. “This filters down to the students.”
Poleyestewa said the teachers at HJSHS are highly capable when given the chance.
Poleyestewa also wondered why several principals turned down the job for the recent opening at Hopi High School.
Her third concern is the budget.
“I’m curious to know how the budget is handled. I want to know what it is and how it is spent,” she said. “I want to know what the school board’s role with the budget is when it comes to the education of our students.”
Poleyestewa said a majority of HJSHS students don’t go to college. Many go on to vocational schools, so she feels more funding should go into vocational education. She said last year several vocational education teachers at HJSHS had a hard time getting supplies for their classroom. She said if HJSHS is preparing students for the outside world then they need to fund these programs.
“It’s sad to see some of them just staying at home,” she said about the former students. “They want to do something, but they don’t know how.”
Poleyestewa said improving test scores is a big mountain to climb. She feels the way to start is with the seventh graders when they come into the school at various skill levels.
“A lot of students don’t like testing and they just blow it off,” she said. “We need to help these kids realize how important these tests are. We need to make sure they have basic reading, writing and math skills, especially math because math is so hard.”
Poleyestewa said students need to learn how to take tests and they need to be placed in the proper classroom for their skill.
“Teachers know the students so they need to be involved in these decisions,” she said. “I would like to see more grade level committees because they all work with the same kids.”
Poleyestewa said drug and alcohol use could be reduced if students had more guidance. She said the school needs to follow the rules that were implemented for everyone and not let someone off because they are an athlete. She said the school needs to be strict and students need to know what to expect if they break the rules.
Poleyestewa said drugs and alcohol is a social issue that the school cannot solve.
“But we can do what we need to do to keep the school safe,” she said. “These students need counseling and I understand that is not happening.”
Last year, Poleyestewa had a drug and alcohol prevention program at the school called CAST and she thought it was successful in helping the students, but the program is not running this year. She said this is another area that would be supported if the staff had input.
Poleyestewa said more students would be retained if HJSHS had a better learning environment.
“It needs to revolve around the student and we need to keep current with educational trends because it changes so much. We need to make it exciting for the students and teach them in a different style from what we learned. We need to adapt and provide them the opportunity to experience the outside world,” she said.
Poleyestewa said the Hopi Reservation is isolated and while the teenagers may see the world through computers and movies that they don’t get to walk it or live it.
“It’s a different kind of learning,” she said.
Poleyestewa said the success of the school should be measured by intangible standards if the students want to be there, if they are learning, if test scores are improving, if the staff has a sense of being a part of the school and a sense of being part of something good.
Poleyestewa said she ran for school board because she wanted to bring her educational experience to the board since she is the only member of the board with teaching experience.
“I want them to know how their decisions impact kids. My decisions are based on making it better for the kids,” she said.
Poleyestewa said she wants to be transparent to the community and parents that elected her.
“I would like them to know what’s going on with the students and I would like help from the staff to let the parents know what’s going on. It will be a big challenge. Whether I’m successful or not will depend on all the people: staff, administration, school board, parents and community,” she said.