Native Parents Demand Change in St. Paul School Program

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native parents demand change in st paul school program.jpgRecent controversies within the St. Paul American Indian

community over programs associated with St. Paul Public Schools have

led to the director of the SPPS American Indian Education program

requesting a reassignment within the district. Questions about the

future of the program continue. Among the controversies: adoption of

former director Rosemary White Shield’s proposed New Day model,

staff restructuring and criticism of how elections of the two Indian

Education Parent Committees were conducted. The recent controversies

add to ongoing criticism that Indian Ed fails to serve all Native

students adequately and that Native students continue to be affected

by the achievement gap.

Indian education programming in SPPS can be confusing and

complex. Multiple programs, two separate parent committees, reflect a

complicated history, diverse funding streams and tangled

administrative paths.

According to the SPPS Web site, the

American Indian Education Program provides services for any American

Indian students who are enrolled members of a tribe, band or other

organized group, including Alaskan Native. The program also may

provide services to any student who is a child or grandchild of an

enrolled member.

Then there’s the American Indian

Studies program, which is funded separately and provides American

Indian history and language from a Native perspective to students of

all backgrounds. It’s offered at the American Indian Magnet School

(K-8) and Harding High School.

There are two American Indian

Education parent committees – the Title VII committee and the

Johnson O’Malley committee, which are funded by two separate

federal grants. Both groups usually meet together, according to

Nicole Martin Rogers, a member of the Title VII Committee. The two

groups have different criteria for participating, with the Johnson

O’Malley committee requiring that parents have a child in the

district who is enrolled with a tribe.

Angie Thornhill, who serves as the Johnson O’Malley board chair

and is also on the Title VII parent committee, said that while Title

VII is an advisory committee, the JOM board is a governing body,

where parents decide how Indian Ed funding can be spent. Title VII,

meanwhile, “works in collaboration with district and Indian Ed,”

Thornhill said.

2014 Elections

Most all sides agree that the elections for next year’s committee

members for both committees didn’t go well.

According to Thornhill, the initial elections for the two parent

committees had to be redone, since there had been a person

misidentified on the ballot when they were first conducted in April.

A second election was held in May at a powwow at American Indian

Magnet School.

Thornhill also said the committee decided to keep the names on

the ballot that had been on it for the first election, but once the

verification process started, “almost all those names weren’t

eligible.” She said ballots were mailed out to parents and sent

home in children’s backpacks.

However, when the second elections took place at the powwow,

there were no names on the ballot. Parents had to write in names.

Parent Maggie Lorenz said, "No one knew who they were supposed

to vote for."

In a written response to a petition about complaints about White

Shield, the New Day Model and problems surrounding the recent parent

committee elections, Superintendent Valeria Silva wrote, “SPPS and

the Parent Committee are aware of the challenges many parents faced

during the nomination and voting process. While a range of

improvements is needed, the SPPS and Parent Committee believe it

should seat those candidates elected in May as committee members.”

Questions about the New Day Model

The New Day model was developed by Rosemary White Shield, who was

the director of the SPPS American Indian Education program from

October 2013 until mid-June.

According to Thornhill, White Shield’s New Day model came about

as a result of the parent committee’s resolution at the end of the

2012-13 school year, which called on the director to investigate

every grant that Indian Ed receives. “Grants have not been in

compliance for some time,” Thornhill said. “We wanted evaluation

for all of the programming.”

Thornhill also said White Shield’s first priority was to run an

audit of each grant. Previously it was, “confusing about how

everybody was paid and what job they were supposed to do,”

Thornhill said. What White Shield found was that some positions

weren’t in line with any of the grants. “They were piecemealed

together,” she said. “In order to be compliant, some positions

needed to be eliminated and new positions needed to be made.”

Thornhill said the parent committee found themselves at a

crossroads and described two choices. “We stay with how Indian Ed

was, which we knew isn’t working. Our achievement is in a downward

spiral. That’s business as usual. Or we take a chance on this model

that was presented in front of us. We decided we were going to back

that, but we didn’t ask clarifying questions.”

She was impressed that it was an actual plan and that White

Shield wanted to partner with different people in the community and

that it was open to how it would be laid out in the community. “I

can’t speak for anyone else – that’s what made me want to

support it. It wasn’t telling me what she was going to do.”

As a committee member, Martin Rogers said she voted by an email

vote (because the group wasn’t able to get quorum at meetings for a

vote) in favor of a resolution that approved White Shield’s

proposed New Day model. According to Martin Rogers, she had a “slight

degree of discomfort” in voting in favor of the resolution. “A

lot of it was vague,” she said, but “there was some pressure to

get it passed.” According to Martin Rogers, she was unaware when

she voted for the resolution that the New Day Model included

eliminating three staff positions within American Indian Ed.

According to a PowerPoint presentation

about the resolution, the Parent Committee will work with Indian Ed

and the district administration to develop and implement a

“culturally-based, student-centered” model for American Indian

students, provide culturally relevant curriculum for students of all

races, provide “culturally-responsive” trainings for teachers and

staff, improve attendance and behavior issues, provide more

culturally-based after school activities, improve communication

between the district and the Parent Committee and improve racial

identification of Indian students. The PowerPoint also outlines that

the model will “address structural and resource challenges within

the American Indian Studies program and “implement culturally

responsive evaluation plans to assess the impact and effectiveness of

Indian Education and American Indian Studies programming.”

The New Day model itself outlines that

in addition to staff development, “Job descriptions will be

adjusted to align with clearly defining roles and responsibilities as

directly congruent with the overarching outcomes of the Oshki

Giizhigad (New Day) Model,” according to a report about the model

written by White Shield and dated Jan. 1. After the committee voted

in favor of the resolution, it was passed by the school board on

April 8.

June 16 Community Meeting

At a parent and community meeting held at American Indian Magnet

School on June 16, parents, students, community members and staff

discussed issues for nearly three hours that the community wanted to

be addressed. SPPS Superintendent Valeria Silva attended and

participated in this meeting. Many of the speakers talked about

frustration with the way Indian Ed had been operated in the past year

since White Shield took leadership and expressed concern about the

staff members whose positions have been eliminated.

Stephanie Schroeder, a teacher in the American Indian Studies

program at Harding High School (which, is a separately funded magnet

program not to be confused with Indian Ed), said this past year has

been very difficult. “I feel like almost a knife was stabbed into

our family and our family was cut apart this year,” she said,

adding that two of the staff members who have left Indian Ed were

there for any student that had a problem.

Nicole Other Medicine, a social worker with Indian Ed, said that

she has “big concerns about staffing,” saying that two social

worker and one counselor position had been eliminated. “We are

understaffed,” she said. “How do we serve our children when

there’s not enough of us?”

“This is not about. ‘I don’t want to lose my job,’ this is

about what is best for the program,” Silva said. “You know me,

I’m very direct and open. It’s about what is best for the program

and what can we afford.”

In a written response to a petition by community members over

White Shield’s leadership, Silva released a response on June 13,

verifying that the district has moved forward with a staff

restructuring plan that White Shield had proposed under the New Day

model that the Parent Committee had approved. “Because personnel

matters are private information, we can’t discuss the details of any

employee’s specific situation,” Silva’s response stated.

“However, we can say that none of the program’s staff have been

terminated ("fired").” The statement goes on to say that

staff whose positions were eliminated from Indian Ed “have rights

to positions elsewhere in the district.”

Silva’s letter also addressed criticism of White Shield over a

chemical dependency grant proposal, which included curriculum that

White Shield authored. In Silva’s response to the petition, she

stated that though White Shield was the author of the curriculum

(Gifts from a Sacred Circle), she didn’t benefit

financially from it. Silva’s response also noted that “no members

of Dr. White Shield’s family benefit financially from any other

resources used by the district.”

At the June 16 meeting, Silva announced that White Shield had

asked to be reassigned to a new position, but didn’t clarify which

position that would be. White Shield was not available for comment or

interview, either before or after the meeting. [The Daily Planet

first requested an interview with White Shield on June 6. She has not

been available for an interview and on June 19, the SPPS Office of

Communications, Marketing & Development advised us that she would

not be available for at least the next few weeks.]

Besides issues surrounding the former director, the June 16

meeting also raised other issues, such as overcrowding and bullying

at American Indian Magnet School, which has 30 percent Native

students. Chief Engagement Officer Jackie Turner responded that the

school has capped enrollment for next year, and Silva promised to

address bullying concerns.

In addition, some people at the meeting said that not all

American Indian students were getting the services they needed.

Nathan Taylor, who graduated from Central High School, said his need

weren’t met because of which school he attended. After attending

American Indian Magnet School, “for the best year of my life,”

Taylor “left behind a sense of community,” when he went to

Central. “Those dollars need to provide services for all of our

children, not just children at one school,” said Laurie Harper,

whose child attends American Indian Magnet.

David Cournoyer, who serves on the Parent Committee, said that

right now, the community is “operating with handcuffs.” Speaking

to a need for a return to relationship building, he said that the

parent voice is not the first thing the district listens to. “Who

are they listening to? 22 union leaders,” he said. “They are

running the system with rule books.” Referring to another person’s

comment about how one of the staff whose position was eliminated used

to greet students at the door, he said that volunteers from the

community could be doing the same thing. “The rules are killing

us.”

At the end of the meeting, Silva said that she has asked Elona

Street-Stewart, a former school board member who is American Indian,

to help work with the district and the community to find solutions.

“I’ve asked Elona to give wisdom and help put ourselves

together,” she said.

Janice LaFloe, who facilitated the meeting with filmmaker and

community organizer Syd Beane, called for people to come forward and

speak with her after the meeting to be part of an ad-hoc committee to

guide the next steps.