Phillips Indian Educators (PIE) Program
Monday, November 07 2016
Written by Veronica Evenson,
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The public school curriculum was never intended to educate students from diverse cultures. The greatest example of this fact can be seen with American Indian children. Historically they have been treated as a mythical creature in standard classrooms, a figure “from days gone by” that unfortunately is now extinct. This can be seen in the very image on the Minnesota flag, depicting “The American Indian heading west.” This of course, was not the case then, and it is not the case now. American Indians continue to be haunted by the historical trauma that inflicts future generations.

Minnesota has a strong American Indian community and is taking great strides to rectify the years of damage done. One shining example of this is the Phillips Indian Educators (PIE) Program. PIE was started by a group of educators in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. Because of the collaborative efforts of these PIE educators, the Minneapolis School District was able to see that this group had the key to closing the “achievement gap” for American Indians. The Minneapolis District and PIE’s collaboration led to the implimentation of the new standard, called “Best Practices” in Indian Education and earned the support of three alternative Indian schools AKA Best Pratice sites.

Joseph Rice, a dedicated educator for 32 years, is the coordinator of PIE and the Executive director of the Center School. The school started as a drop-in center in the early 1970s and has grown to be one of the 3 Best Practice sites. He was kind enough to provide me some valuable insight into the issues that the American Indian Community has encountered with the Minnesota Public School System.

In 1990 President George H. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. In 2006 the first Memorandum of Agreement was signed between PIE and the Minneapolis school district.

Rice: We’re called a contract alternative program, basically they contract with us to work with Native students, because they have historically not been very successful at it. Statistically insignificant is how we are often desribed.

Evenson: Why was it necessary to have cooperation with Minneapolis school system?

Rice: We knew that we needed our kids to succeed, and we know what works with our kids. One of the thoughts was that we help public schools understand what works... we do a 3 day inservice in the summer for educators, but it’s only a couple days so it doesn’t create dramatic change.
The larger American education system hasn’t changed much at all. They are still based on chalkboards, sitting in rows, and listening to lectures.

They are told that the teacher is the authority, you listen and must respect them. I guess that’s the difference; we look at teachers as leaders. There is just not enough. Right now we need a Dakota speaker.

Evenson: How often does PIE meet with Minneapolis schools? How many groups are you meeting with?

Rice: We meet with the superintendent once a month and the PIE group meets every 2 weeks. People from Minneapolis public schools and the Department of Education are quite often at those meetings... we do collaborate on programs.

Evenson: Funding, is that a struggle?

Rice: Always! You’re funded based on number of kids, and right now we have 43 students enrolled at The Center School . . . It’s about $7000 dollars (per student). It’s very low, because you need easily twice or three times as much to do the kind of education we do... which is experiential and holistic. It addresses the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional parts for... a balanced individual.
The U.S. Census Bureau in 2013 Division Report details that on average it cost 11,089 to educate each Minnesota student. Minneapolis however, spent $14,131 per student in 2014 acording to the Minneasota Department of Education.

Evenson: “Have you seen any lasting results in the youth and community in relationship to the school?

Rice: Well, we can see success here in the school on a year by year basis with the kids that come in and stay. First thing is to re-engage them. After that, empower them and help them to get enough credits to graduate... It’s about creating kids who love themselves and who believe that there is nothing they can’t do. Just trying to turn out better test scores, well, your not dreaming very big.

Evenson: Are they still holding Best Practice sites to standardized testing?

Rice: Yeah, in itself it’s not the goal, the goal is helping kids use their minds. I don’t see standards as the reason for education. It is kind of backwards.

Evenson: The idea that the Minneapolis school system seemed to get behind closing of ‘the Achievement gap’, do you think that the gap is closing?

Rice: Is the gap really there or is it well defined? What are they using to determine the gap? I think they need more than test scores, 4-year graduation rates, and attendance numbers, in order to determine if people are really succeeding.

Evenson: Do you think that the holistic approach to education, a program like yours, could realisticly be implemented statewide?

Rice: Sure. They would have to invest money to retro-fit... at some point there’s got to be a lot of money spent on changing or everything’s going to fall apart... We look at teachers as leaders.

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