Brainerd Public Schools: Board to address American Indian education concerns
After hearing from the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee, the Brainerd School Board is taking steps toward better meeting the educational needs of American Indian students and closing the achievement gap between American Indian and non-Na...
After hearing from the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee, the Brainerd School Board is taking steps toward better meeting the educational needs of American Indian students and closing the achievement gap between American Indian and non-Native students.
Ashley Ingebrigtson, Native American education coordinator in the district, and Susan Beaulieu, chair of the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee, went before the school board Monday, Feb. 25, discussing why committee members issued a vote of non-concurrence, meaning they did not feel the district achieved stipulated goals and fulfilled recommendations presented last year to help meet the educational needs of American Indian students.
"It is our experience and the experience of our children that the current curricula used by the district does not accurately reflect the history of this nation nor the culture of the diverse and important role that indigenous peoples living in North America played and continue to play," Beaulieu said on behalf of the committee. "We strongly believe that having more historically accurate curricula, building a greater understanding of the government-to-government nature of the treaties between the United States government and tribes historically through the present, through today, and embedding this information into the core curricula as well as properly preparing our teachers and the staff to teach about these topics will not only better support our Native students but will also increase understanding and dialogue between Native and non-Native students and community members, and this will foster a healthier and more thriving community."
Beaulieu noted current curricula does not focus on tribes in Minnesota-like the Ojibwe and Dakota-and not all staff members have appropriate training on how to comfortably and confidently discuss American Indian issues.
Disciplinary data from 2012, she added, shows students of color made up roughly 5.1 percent of the ninth- through 12th-grade student body in the district, but accounted for about 9.2 percent of disciplinary referrals.
Last year, the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee-formed about three years ago-issued a vote of concurrence but outlined recommendations for the district to make even better strides in American Indian education.
This year, Ingebrigtson and Beaulieu said the district did not succeed, in the committee's eyes, in meeting those recommendations, though they did not remind the board of last year's recommendations and could not give specific examples, as board member Tom Haglin requested, of where the district failed.
"I haven't seen anything yet that says we're not in compliance," Haglin said.
Before the committee's vote, Ingebrigtson explained, parents are often polled to gauge how they feel about their students' needs being met.
"Maybe what they're seeing their students being taught in class feels inaccurate or looks to be inaccurate," Ingebrigtson said of American Indian parents surveyed.
As a result, the parent advisory committee brought forth the following recommendations to the board:
• Conduct a full assessment of current K-12 curriculum to enrich and expand curriculum in American Indian education across the school district. This includes identifying areas in which state standards are not being met, evaluating current curricula for historical and cultural accuracy, utilizing resources with American Indian perspectives and broadening lessons on local American Indian tribes.
• Provide ongoing professional development opportunities to certified and non-certified district staff. Development opportunities should include learning styles and customs of American Indian students, historical and contemporary trauma in American Indian communities, American Indian perspectives on frequently discussed historical events like Thanksgiving and Christopher Columbus, integrating community knowledge into the classroom, and understanding overrepresentation of American Indian students in special education and disciplinary actions.
Haglin noted the recommendations seem incredibly broad, and as many of them would likely take more than a year to implement, board member Ruth Nelson asked what the board can do to make sure the district is in concurrence next year.
"We realize that it's a process. What we really are hoping is that the district is willing to work with us to begin that process and to plan it out," Beaulieu said. "I do believe that if the school district and the school board in good faith is moving toward the recommendations that the parent committee would issue a vote of concurrence."
Board member Charles Black Lance-chair of the parent advisory committee last year-said the committee's recommendations are broader this year compared to last year so as not to pigeonhole the board into a vote of non-concurrence again next year.
He added parents are fairly pleased with the American Indian education program the district has in place, though the ultimate goal is to close the achievement gap.
"Initiating the American Indian program we have here is a significant step, but a step in what really will turn out to be a marathon," Black Lance said.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education's North Star accountability system, 67.8 percent of non-American Indian students achieved proficiency in reading on academic accountability tests in 2017, compared with 54.2 percent of American Indian students. In math, the proficiency level of American Indian students was 57.6 percent, compared to 67.2 percent of non-American Indian students.
Although it's "probably not perfect," Superintendent Laine Larson said the district has made great strides in American Indian education since she started, noting the hiring of another staff member for the American Indian program during the past year.
Ultimately, the board approved a motion Monday acknowledging receipt of the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee's recommendations and agreeing to pursue future efforts to partner with the committee toward lessening the achievement gap for American Indian students.
Black Lance then thanked board members for the labor and thought dedicated to this issue.
According to state statute, the board has 60 days from receiving the parent committee's feedback to send a response to the recommendations to the Office of Indian Education. Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning in the district, said he will provide that response, as he did last year.
According to a previous Brainerd Dispatch story, in February 2018, Ingebrigtson and Black Lance, then the parent advisory committee chair, brought the following recommendations to the board:
• The district would host events and guests that celebrate American Indian cultures-an effort to create pride, a sense of belonging and cultural representations for American Indian students, as well as educating the larger student body.
• The district would assist in creating a staffing model for American Indian education in which both an American Indian education program coordinator and American Indian liaison would work as a team to meet the needs of American Indian students. Black Lance said this request arose out of consistent confusion with the role and responsibilities of Ingebrigtson's liaison position, adding it would be best, with the limited state and federal dollars available, for the district to create and fund the coordinator position with district monies.
• District schools would provide more cultural training opportunities for teachers, counselors and administrators to equip staff with the necessary cultural lens needed to best serve American Indian students.
• The Brainerd School District would create more support for academically strong American Indian students by providing differentiated curriculum for students that perform above their grade level. Black Lance noted there are only two American Indian students in the Gifted and Talented program-a number that falls well below his expectations.