Rybak Addresses Achievement Gap for Native Students



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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.”


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”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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.