School board asked to increase efforts to ensure American Indian student success
American Indian student success continues to be an important issue for a group of parents in the Brainerd School District, as administrators struggle to meet specific goals.
For the second year in a row, the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee issued a vote of non-concurrence to the school board after feeling the district did not fulfill recommendations made last year to meet the needs of, not only American Indian, but all students in the district.
Committee Chair Susan Beaulieu and member Govinda Budrow reported to the school board Monday, Feb. 24, with their assessment of the last year and recommendations for the year to come.
Beaulieu asked board members to keep open minds and hear the messages, perspectives and voices shared both at the board meeting and throughout the next year.
“Our interest is not only to help indigenous students in the district, but all students,” she said.
To start the report off on a positive note, a few students presented board members and Superintendent Laine Larson with offerings of cloth, a tradition Beaulieu and Budrow said is often used to start important events in Native American culture. As the students delivered the gifts, Beaulieu and Budrow thanked the board for specific steps and initiatives taken over the past year.
Miigwech (“thank you” in Ojibwe), they said, for:
Extending staffing for American Indian education,
Partnering with the parent committee to enable staff to review, revise and expand the curriculum to provide integration of historical and contemporary indgenous wisdom,
Supporting sixth-grade social studies teachers with substitutes and travel funds to get training in the Dakota homelands curriculum,
Supporting the pow-wow at Central Lakes College, especially with the presence of administrators, teachers and school board members,
Providing support for teacher in-service training in the district around race, equity, achievement cap, culturally relevant learning and implicit bias.
“Where we are in the district is much like the cloth you have before you. We as a parent committee envision a fully assembled quilt that is cared for by the district,” Budrow said, motioning to completed quilts displayed behind her.
Each square in the quilt, she said, would represent an essential component to the district’s responsibility to indigenous families and children, upholding state and federal obligations to meet the students’ unique needs and ensure equal educational opportunities for all students.
While acknowledging the progress the district has made, Budrow said there is still much further to go to make the vision of a completed quilt a reality.
Last year, the parent advisory committee made the following recommendations to the board:
Conduct a full assessment of the 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.
The vote of non-concurrence, the women said, is not about progress, but about district compliance with the Minnesota Department of Education Office of Indian Education. The vote, they said, comes from the committee’s assessment of the district based on the rubric formulated by the Office of Indian Education.
Based on the rubric, the committee made several recommendations for the district to tackle in the next year.
The first is to collect accurate data and use it to help close the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s North Star Accountability system, 49.1% of American Indian students in Brainerd achieved proficiency in math on accountability tests in 2019, compared with 63% of white students. In reading, 41.8% of Brainerd’s American Indian students achieved proficiency, compared with 68.6% of white students. The districtwide averages in 2019 were 61.8% in math and 67.4% proficiency in reading.
Though Native students in Brainerd generally perform higher than the state average, they are still performing below non-Native students in the district.
Budrow said the district needs to make sure its data collection practices correctly count Native students to assist in getting the most accurate information regarding the achievement gap and success rates. Native students who identify as two or more races, for example, may not always be included in those counts.
Budrow asked the board to try to compile more comprehensive data to allow for proper understanding to guide decision-making.
“We are left with more questions and answers when it relates to the very real achievement gap. Our children are still sitting in the same classrooms, but are having different results and achievements. We are asking the district to develop regular comprehensive analysis of the data as it relates to Native American children in the district,” Budrow said. “And once this data is analyzed through an equity lens, it’s used to close the achievement gap and address other issues that arise to the surface surrounding this data.”
The next recommendation was to ensure Native representation on the District Advisory Committee, or DAC, and provide bias vulnerability training for all current committee members, as well as ongoing training for all new members when they join. Beaulieau said they would also like information on how the committee is structured, how committee members are chosen and how meaningful consultation with the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee can occur.
School Board member Charles Black Lance is a member and former chair of the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee. He also sits on the committee, but only as a school board member.
The next recommendation was to continue the work third-grade teacher Erin Karlgaard has done to integrate American Indian history and culture into the elementary school curriculum and expand that work to grades 5-8. According to the rubric, full implementation of this recommendation includes two or more years of collaborating with the parent advisory committee, local tribal leaders and/or local colleges to explicitly and meaningfully integrate accurate, age-appropriate American Indian content into curriculum and instruction across all grades. Full implementation also includes a curriculum adoption/approval committee to regularly review instructional materials for cultural relevance, accuracy and absence of bias in relation to American Indians.
Another recommendation dealt with staff development training. Budrow said the committee recognizes and appreciates the support the district has given for Anton Treuer, an Ojibwe studies professor at Bemidji State University, to speak to staff, and for implicit bias training with Sourcewell.
“Yet this, too, is an area of opportunity and growth for the district to reach full implementation,” Budrow said.
Indicators on the rubric of full implementation include staff awareness of policies and practices impacting American Indian student performance and attendance, formal support for tribal policies and cultural practices, and American Indian cultural training for staff.
The last recommendation the women gave is for the board to fill out a self-assessment of the district based on the rubric and meet with the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee to discuss scores.
School board member Bob Nystrom asked if there are any examples of school districts in the state that have been especially good in implementing any of these practices. Budrow said different districts have been successful in different areas of implementation and noted the St. Paul School District as a good example in terms of curriculum. The department of education, she said, is generally a good resource for what implementation might look like.
Board Chair Tom Haglin asked if, in the future, the board could get regular updates on the district’s progress with the committee’s recommendations, as it can be discouraging to work on something for a year and then not know until the year is up the district was still noncurrent. Budrow and Beaulieu said that’s something they can do.
Board member Ruth Nelson then asked if it’s even possible to reach a vote of full concurrence in one year.
Budrow said it probably isn’t possible, as, again, progress does not equal concurrence.
Though the committee does not believe the district reached full implementation in any of the categories on the rubric, Budrow said there are areas where the district is actively working toward the final goal.
Knowing that information, Haglin said it might be a good idea to create timelines with, say, three- or five-year plans to achieve each goal and work with district administrators involved in the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee to ensure those plans get implemented.
Budrow and Beaulieu agreed with that assessment and also noted the recommendations brought before the board should align well with other work the district is doing to ensure student success rates.
“So just figuring out how to align this work with the work the district’s already doing will make this work go a lot smoother and quicker,” Budrow said.
According to state statute, the school board has 60 days from receiving the parent committee’s feedback to send a response to the recommendations to the Office of Indian Education.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .