Letter: Navajo Nation education system needs fixing
To the editor:
Today we have immense problems in our schools and many of us had been looking forward to seeing real solutions fro the Bureau of Indian Education transfer of authority project that the Department of Dineh Education has been working on, but so far that project has failed to deliver a real product we can wrap our arms around.
Navajo school kids, whether in BIE or public schools, face enormous challenges — many of those challenges are directly related to the fact that so many of them grow up in impoverished homes. Some are homeless. Some are hungry. Some have only one parent. Some have bad teachers and administrators. It is difficult — and expensive — to help students in such distress learn.
Except none more serious than placing poorly or inadequately prepared educators in charge to manage this project and others similar.
And yet that is exactly what a change of this magnitude must address, but so far, it is the best kept secret — how this change of authority would address these difficult circumstances. Well, I am told, there is no plan.
For far too many children in these schools, the educational system is letting them down. Most of what I’ve learned from reliable Navajo tribal and BIE employees, this transfer of authority is more about exercising tribal control and attainting access to additional BIE education funds.
These are scarce funds that parents and a good many delegates would rather see remain with the children and the schools. Then again, what is lacking is serious talks about how BIE schools will improve by having the tribe operate the schools.
So, when the BIE and U.S. Office of Education awarded funds to DODE to entice Navajo BIE parents to approve this change, some perceived it to be a bold and positive step, including myself.
It is not working. As we hear daily from BIE board members, administrators and teachers and many delegates, they are not willing to see this change of authority go through. That should hardly come as a surprise. This project was actually initiated by the BIE as a way to get Congress and the White House off their backs and not have to sit in front of Congressional committees answering tough questions.
Rather than call his initiative a waste of scarce BIE dollars, let’s call it a ‘learning experience.’ Here are a few of the takeaways BIE and Navajo Tribal officials offer:
Change of this nature requires a much greater understanding of educational systems issues than what DODE leadership can provide. Tribal and DODE officials need to address several underlying and deeply entrenched factors along with leadership skills and reform-minded ideas for undertaking such a project.
The expenses spent trying to entice BIE and Navajo Tribal parents would have been better applied to a public education campaign for the entire Navajo community, conveying how the change will improve Navajo BIE schools. Cnage the focus of DODE from a primarily ‘regulatory and sanction’ emphasis to more of a ‘service’ agency to help Navajo BIE schools get better. Build up DODE and the tribe’s capacity to deliver and thus build trust with Navajo BIE officials and parents.
Proceed with care, not political expediency. Make it less a top-down initiative and build from the grassroots level. Major obstacles stand in the way when you don’t reach outto the BIE education community and parents to be involved in the initiative, this obstacle runs deep. It requires learning, patience and a commitment that goes well beyond than the BIE pushing this ont the tribe.
There are countless other well-intended programs being implemented by both the tribe and DODE education officials. But this project is among the latest in a long string of blunders that need serious atten from the president, council and the Navajo Board of Education. For starters, they need to hire a superindendent who understands Navajo K-12 school leadership as well as leadership skills in how to plan for school reform.
Window Rock, Arizona