Success of American Indian students and the inclusion of their culture and history in school curriculum continue to be top concerns for a group of parents at Brainerd Public Schools.
For the third year in a row, members of the district’s American Indian Parent Advisory Committee issued a vote of nonconcurrence, meaning the district did not comply with recommendations set forth the year before.
Committee members Govinda Budrow and Amanda Small gave board members their feedback Monday, Feb. 22.
Last year’s recommendations included collecting accurate data to help close the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students; ensuring Native representation on the district advisory committee; continuing to work on integrating American Indian history and culture into the curriculum; staff development training and for district administrators to fill out a self-assessment from the Minnesota Department of Education’s Office of Indian Education and meet with the parent committee to discuss the results.
Some of those goals were met, as Budrow and Small thanked the district for opening a seat on the district advisory committee, agreeing to provide implicit bias training for that committee, supporting third-grade teacher Erin Karlgaard’s work on infusing Native American culture into the curriculum and participating in the self-assessment.
But the rest of the recommendations were not met, they said, and should have been doable even with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Watch the school board meeting
This year’s recommendations
The first recommendation is to have structured and meaningful collaboration between the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee and the district.
The committee’s hope is for district officials to work closely with them for context and successful implementation of the rest of their recommendations.
“And we’ll take it on us to invite the district to strategic meetings at regular intervals with specific topics surrounding those recommendations so that we can better collaborate on those,” Small said.
The second recommendation, which Budrow said has been made for several years and not fulfilled, is data regarding the achievement gap of American Indian students and their non-Indigenous counterparts. For this recommendation, she said, the district should:
Create methods to provide accurate student data counts with a way to unpack the multi-racial category for better identification of American Indian students.
Sort by race student satisfaction rates, special education placement, dropout rates, attendance rates and graduation rates at least yearly and reflect on the impact of these rates on that population.
Consult with the disciplinary incident reporting specialist at the Minnesota Department of Education to develop accurate methods for considering racial data regarding discipline.
Consult with special education specialists that work with disproportionality at the education department on how to accurately figure racial proportionality in special education.
The data should be disseminated in ways that are eco-friendly and responsive to interpreting small data sets to create meaningful change, Budrow said.
“Instead of gathering this data and working with the Department of Education resources, the committee has been responded to in a variety of seemingly evasive ways,” Budrow said. “We are volunteers, but we are also intelligent volunteers. It is disappointing to see year after year the data being used in a variety of ways that will never achieve the committee’s request.”
Budrow said the responses the committee received from the district to this request over the years made members feel like their concerns were minimized and discounted. Responses, she said, included providing incorrect data or data that was not sorted by race and the comment that because Indigenous students in Brainerd are performing higher than state average, the district is not concerned.
Superintendent Laine Larson said she was not sure what requests were not properly addressed.
Board member Charles Back Lance, who also sits on the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee, said it involves the school board taking an active role in providing that information and not just passing it off to administrators. He also said the data provided needs to be processed to the point where the committee can decipher it and use it for their needs.
The third recommendation is for the district to provide professional development centered around American Indian culture for faculty and staff.
“It is noted that the district implemented broad training for staff, but none of that training specifically was dedicated to Indigenous students, nor are all staff members included in those trainings,” Small said.
The fourth recommendation is for district administrators and board members to complete the self-assessment guide for implementing American Indian education from the state Office of Indian Education. Budrow thanked administrators for filling out the rubric last year but said the follow-up discussion of scores with the committee did not happen.
The fifth recommendation is to expand Native American education staff from two part-time positions to a full-time Native education coordinator position with benefits and a part-time Native American student liaison position.
The last recommendation dealt with policy updates, specifically regarding tobacco and ceremonial smudging, which involves burning herbs and resins before important events.
“That is the way that we begin anything that’s really important to us,” Budrow said of smudging. “That is the way that we go to our elders to ask questions. … If we’re going to need extra support or help with something and need somebody to listen to us in a good way, it’s the way we do something in a good way.”
Tobacco has ceremonial uses in Native American culture and can also be used in smudging.
These types of practices, Budrow said, should not be restricted for Native American students in the schools, which should be safe spaces for them.
“Some of our kids get really misinterpreted, and some of our families get very misinterpreted when they come from their own traditional practices because of the lack of knowledge by educators and others within communities,” Budrow said.
The six recommendations are designed to be completed in the next year and will lead the district toward compliance and addressing the achievement gap, Small and Budrow said.
“Therefore, once again we are asking the district to make a whole-hearted commitment for districtwide support of this work, which includes the school board, administration, teachers, parents and all support staff throughout the district,” Small said.
State statute requires the school board to acknowledge the report from the committee and send a response to the recommendations to the Office of Indian Education within 60 days.
Board member Tom Haglin said there was a lot of information to digest and he was not going to pretend to follow the details of everything that was presented, but he suggested the board tackle one recommendation at a time and try to meet one each quarter.
“Otherwise we’re going to be in the same boat next year where we haven’t made progress, and I don’t even know where we’re trying to make progress, other than relationships,” Haglin said.
And if things aren’t working well, Haglin said those concerns should be brought to the board right away and not a year from now with another vote of nonconcurrence.
Budrow said she appreciated that approach, as long as it includes all the recommendations presented. She said it might seem like a lot of recommendations but that’s only because some of last year’s that weren’t met were carried over.
“That does complicate things,” she said. “And the committee spent a long time wondering, ‘Do we just submit the same recommendations?’ But that means no progress at all, and so we chose to add to those recommendations.”
"Yes, there's a collective responsibility — don't get me wrong. But the rubber has to meet the road at some point."
— Jana Shogren
Board member Jana Shogren added to Haglin’s suggestion and said maybe the board should delegate who is responsible for working on each recommendation.
“Yes, there’s a collective responsibility — don’t get me wrong. But the rubber has to meet the road at some point,” she said, adding there should be a person or group responsible for things like collecting data or working on other initiatives.
Board Chair Bob Nystrom agreed with Haglin in that he felt overwhelmed by all the information presented. He also said he tends to lean heavily on Black Lance because of his place both on the board and in the Indigenous community.
“I just highly respect what he has to say, and so I just naturally lean to you,” he said. “So if we need to do it a different way, help us. Maybe we could start with that one thing a quarter. We’ve got to start somewhere.”
Just by having that conversation and forming a strategy, Budrow said the board is already dealing with the first recommendation on collaboration.
She said the committee is grateful for Black Lance’s representation on the board but added everybody — including each board member — has a responsibility to see this work through.
“And that’s what we’re here for, is to advise,” she said. “And it matters to us that this goes well because it’s our kids.”
Black Lance added if board members don’t understand the vote of nonconcurrence it’s their responsibility to resolve that issue instead of leaning on the parent committee.
Haglin agreed but said he wanted to see a plan on how to accomplish each recommendation, otherwise it just feels like a duplication of the last couple years.
Black Lance suggested a joint board meeting with the parent committee, but Haglin said that would be another full board meeting and isn’t generally how things are done.
The board unanimously accepted the vote of nonconcurrence, and Nystrom said he would consult with Larson after the meeting and figure out how to move forward.