Hopi school board members question Tribal council after recent removal

Former board members at Hopi Jr/Sr High Laurel Poleyestewa and Sandra Dennis gave comments and questioned the recent removal of the governing board during a tribal council forum May 15. The Hopi Tribal Council took no action at the forum. (Stock photo)

Former board members at Hopi Jr/Sr High Laurel Poleyestewa and Sandra Dennis gave comments and questioned the recent removal of the governing board during a tribal council forum May 15. The Hopi Tribal Council took no action at the forum. (Stock photo)

POLACCA, Ariz. — Two members of the recently removed Hopi Jr/Sr School (HJSHS)Governing Board questioned why the Hopi Tribal Council removed them without getting their side of the story and also asked if the tribal council broke their own policy in the process.

Former HJSHS board members Laurel Poleyestewa and Sandra Dennis gave their comments during a marathon seven hour tribal council forum on the issue May 15 at HJSHS. The Hopi Tribal Council took no action at the forum. Teachers, staff, parents and students spoke during the forum.

The Hopi Tribal Council voted May 9 to remove the HJSHS Governing Board and replaced them with the Hopi Board of Education on an interim basis.

Poleyestewa, who had worked at HJSHS for 26 years before resigning because of problems at the school two years ago, said the school had been declining for five or six years. She said the decline caused the HJSHS board to make some hard decisions.

“I can’t believe you all didn’t ask us,” she told the tribal council. “I guess we will never know why (we were removed).”

Poleyestewa said she was kind of relieved that the board was removed because the task had become so stressful. She said some had told them that they couldn’t believe that the board had “messed up 12 people’s lives” because those staff members did not have their contracts renewed. However, she said those decisions were made thinking about the 500 students at the school rather than the adults.

“We tried to listen to staff and students,” she said.

Poleyestewa said the decisions were made with the board’s attorney on the phone so she did not see how anyone can question the legality of the action.

“We followed policy,” she said. “We hope the new board will be successful for our kids. This is how I tried to make a difference. I want to know what I did that was so wrong.”

Poleyestewa said the HJSHS Governing Board received 11 pages of complaints regarding the staff whose contracts were not renewed. She said the people who wrote the letters were also afraid of retaliation.

“There were students with 100 tardies and nothing was being done,” she said. “We have a hard time finding staff, but one board member said our teachers do not need to be certified.”

Poleyestewa said the school needs a curriculum, but telling the teachers to come up with one in two months is unreal.

She said when Board President Ivan Sidney wrote a letter to the tribal council with his complaints about the school board, he was breaking school board policy.

Sandra Dennis, another member of the ousted board, said she was never told why they were removed. She said the tribal council should have seen if there was a way to work with the HJSHS Governing Board.

“We deserve some form of explanation,” she said.

Dennis said the HJSHS Governing Board members were elected by their communities, who showed trust and faith in them; the same trust and faith that the tribal council should have granted them.

“Our children’s future is in the balance. Why can’t we just sit down and talk with one another? We deserve an answer,” she said.

Dennis said from previously working with the tribe, she knows that it usually takes two weeks to get something on the tribal council’s agenda, yet this (item) was on the tribal council’s agenda one day after the issue came up.

“The system is broke. We all agreed we should have sat down to discuss this,” she said.

Dennis said the interim board was not advised that they were put in this capacity.

“You need to talk to people before taking action,” she told the tribal council. “We’re not here for ourselves, but for the kids.”

Laverne Lomakema, a math teacher at Hopi High School, said the distraction has raised havoc with students, distracting them from their work with several wondering if it would impact graduation. She recounted how, during the last school year, she has had to teach two classes at one time because of the lack of math teachers.

“I had to go back and forth between classes,” she said. “If nobody did it then nothing would have happened.”

Lomakema has been teaching at the school for 13 years and said she is vested in the school. Lomakema said hardly anyone knows that 25 percent of the students at HJSHS have math disabilities and said the tribal council should be talking to the teachers so they know these facts.

“I have been tutoring students three to four times a week with no extra pay. I get no extra for the extra math course I’m teaching. There are some teachers who care,” she said.

Lomakema said after leaving Hopi High for a year to work at Mesa High School she found that Hopi High is behind the times. For example, students at Mesa High School have graphic calculators, which students at Hopi High for the most part do not. She made sure her students got those calculators because it can bring a 400 to 700 percent improvement in standardized math test scores. She said all the students at Mesa High School are able to get online at the same time, while Hopi High has trouble with online tests because the online system breaks down.

Hopi Tribal Councilman Robert Charley said the vote was 11-5 to remove the board and he voted against it. He said he could not talk about the “malfeasance” involved because the council discussed it during executive session.

“It should have been held in public,” he said.

Dushon Monongye, a former academic counselor at HJSHS who now works at Dilcon School, said it was not fair that the HJSHS was placed on the tribal council’s agenda so fast.

“The protocol was not followed,” she said.

Monongye said the HJSHS Governing Board was “a good old boys club” for too long. She thanked Hopi Tribal Chairman Timothy Nuvangyaoma for being in the audience.

“None of the past chairman have shown an interest or listened,” she said.

Monongye spoke about her support for former popular Hopi High English teacher Myles Beam, who did not have his contract renewed a year ago.

“All this bullying against non-Hopi teachers needs to stop,” she said.

Monongye called on the Hopi Tribal Council to bring the HJSHS Governing Board back.

“You need to reevaluate what you’ve done,” she told the tribal council. “We need people on the board with a background in education.”

Monongye recounted how HJSHS has lost welding and auto shop teachers because of the turmoil.

Detroit James, a substitute teacher at HJSHS, told the tribal council that they have the knowledge and testimony about what happened at HJSHS.

“As voting members, would you change your vote?” he asked them.

Hopi Tribal Councilman Herman Honani, a former chairman, said he was not in council when the vote was taken to remove the school board and he would probably have voted against it because the board members were elected.

“It’s too late. It’s time to come together,” he said. “This may be a blessing in disguise.”

Mary Felter, a former tribal secretary, questioned whether the tribal council followed procedures. She asked how the Hopi Tribal Council could complete an investigation into HJSHS in one week. She criticized the tribal council for not addressing community issues such as alcohol and meth on the Hopi Reservation.

She also questioned why the tribal council didn’t inform the people at tribal council when they came out of executive session after discussing the HJSHS issue. She said the law calls for an interim board to have three members from the tribal council on it and that was not done.

“You directed the interim board to review (the contracts and non-renewals). They decided not to touch it, so will council remove HBE?” That’s what made this whole thing come about,” she said.

Madonna Dawasevaya, a teacher at Second Mesa Day School, recommended that the council move forward with the previous board. She thanked the teachers at HJSHS saying they often do not get the appreciation they deserve.

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