Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Sat, Dec. 07

Letter: Department of Dineh Education needs new leadership focused on teachers

Now that Dr. Tommy Lewis has made a smart decision to step away from running the Department of Dineh Education, unfortunately for many of us parents, the decision does not come soon enough.

As many of us have observed, DODE has been way too inactive and unmoving when it comes to improving our schools. The signs are everywhere, and we hear about it not just from parents and students, but from anyone who values education.

More evidence comes forth daily; look at the recent performance data released by the State Department of Education and the Bureau of Indian Education, too many of our school are on the list as underperforming.

It is inexcusable, the Navajo Nation, especially President [Jonathan] Nez, the Navajo Nation Council, the Education Committee and the Navajo Board of Education must do something.

That something is to hire a superintendent who knows how to improve schools, a leader who knows how to help teachers become better teachers, knows how to help administrators become better leaders, knows how to help school boards become better boards. Do not make the same mistake by hiring someone with a modest track record of work in this field.

There is no doubt there are good teachers and administrators in our schools who need to be celebrated for their hard work at schools beset by challenges, particularly that majority of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Poverty and all of the hardships that come with it make learning and teaching a difficult task.

But clearly, Mr. President and Navajo Council members, with the right leader and staff of DODE, our schools can do better. In the right environment, our students will begin to make gains academically and one day catch their peers. It is not rocket science, if you have the right leader (a real school leader) is what we need to begin making changes to improve our schools, rather than an educator whose experience is solely as an “education program administrator” and less as a K-12 school leader.

Unfortunately, DODE is heavily staffed with the latter and that is a major reason why there is little to no attention to making our schools better. The two offices that should be taking the lead, School Improvement and Office of Compliance, lack staff to deliver this type of leadership.

Nothing rings truer to parents than the fact that good teachers, strong principals, imaginative superintendents and a skilled and supportive staff from DODE can make all the difference. We need people at DODE who have sufficient experiences as a school-improvement leaders, instructional and curriculum leaders and who have experience as a teacher and an administrator, especially in improving schools.

Too many of our Navajo students drop out and never graduate. Talk to drop outs and they will tell you that they leave school because they are bored, feel no one cares about them or have other family needs they have to attend to.

The sad thing is that none of this is new. Past leaders have made the same blunder and that continues today, which is too many of our elected leaders don’t do enough to educate themselves or be educated to understand exactly what needs doing at DODE and throughout our education system.

For example Mr. President, to help address this underperformance situation, you should be looking for ways how Dineh College and Navajo Technical University, and other universities who claim to support Navajo education, can assist improving Navajo K-12 schools. It doesn’t make sense to continue to support them as “Navajo’s Higher Learning Institutions,” or to continue to send scarce tribal funds to nearby universities unless their focus includes an area that directly benefits Navajo K-12 school improvement.

If there is one thing you can do immediately Mr. President and Navajo Council members, you need an education advisor advising you on what you should be doing and how to get this done.

Wallace Hanley

Window Rock, Arizona

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