Rybak Addresses Achievement Gap for Native Students
Monday, October 07 2013
Written by Andrea Cornelius,
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“We've got to act like this is a crisis because it is,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said of the achievement gap, at the beginning of a roundtable discussion about Indian education at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Aug. 26.

The auditorium at the Minneapolis American Indian Center was full of educators, parents and community members representing such organizations as Division of Indian Work (DIW) and others, who all came with concerns, questions and opinions on ways schools can help more Native American children succeed.

MIGIZI Communications, Phillips Indian Educators (PIE) and the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) hosted this roundtable dialogue with the Mayor to generate ideas to work towards ending the achievement for American Indian students.

Rybak said he wanted, “an honest dialogue with a lot of people I've been working with, and some new people, from their perspective on what more we need to do to make sure every single kid is successful.”

This conversation came about after Minneapolis Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced her plan to reshape education for Minneapolis children so that every child who walks into one of the city’s schools walks out prepared to succeed in either college or a career.

This hour-long exchange with the mayor was long overdue as Gary Lucier, Program Facilitator for the Minneapolis Public Schools Indian Education Department said afterwards, “I think there has to be real connection with community and they have to open their doors to our perspective … it took him twelve years to figure it out.”

Parent Lynette Vizenor said, “They need to start listening to our needs not telling us what we need and that’s why we are having the problems we were having today”

At the beginning of the discussion, the Rybak explained his core beliefs to change the current educational system, which include more time in school for kids (increasing both days and hours), finding more minority teachers and specifically, Native American teachers and greater freedom for school leaders to select qualified teachers. With these ideas laid forth, the community was able to directly provide their perspective on this agenda.

A major subject was volunteerism and how to allow for more opportunities for Native American volunteers to be involved in schools, which in turn, sparked the discussion of partnerships between the community and schools to provide and increase those volunteers. An idea that the mayor recognized as fundamental in a Native American’s child’s success; “because, frankly, having Indian volunteers work with Indian kids is a lot more powerful,” he said. Additionally, a participant suggested that there be opportunities for elders to be in schools to teach language and cultural traditions.

“The school system has to quit looking at it like they can fix it by themselves, it takes a community for our kids and these organizations on the outside of the school system are here and they’re saying, ‘hey we wanna be apart of this’… we watch over each other, we come together,” Vizenor said.

Afterwards, Vizenor left with lingering doubts, “It was just informed to me that the superintendent is working on this shift packet and … from what I understand she’s writing this up with no Native perspective or input. I have no hope in that.”

However, Lucier remains optimistic, “This discussion doesn’t stop here ... I think our community has some outspoken people who can see that we need to work from our perspective, give some uplift to volunteerism, give some restructure, provide our community input – the American Indian perspective – to the needs of education.”

This dialogue was a part of a larger discussion that Rybak is conducting with all communities in Minneapolis about the achievement gap. “As someone whose worked with the community for 12 years I want to make sure we don’t settle for the status quo. Its good but not good enough,” he said.

It is the beginning of a hopeful and much needed change for the community, “We need to hold these people accountable, we need to hold the state accountable, we need to hold the government accountable, everything that we suffer from today was directly put upon us by the system, this education system, they need to fund programs to help our people come back,” Vizenor said.

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