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Ronan Indian Education Director position a bridge between schools and tribal community

By Alyssa Nenemay

Ronan School District’s superintendent Andy Holmlund is overseeing the hiring process of the schools’ Indian Education Coordinator position. Holmlund is serving in the position until filled. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) Ronan School District’s superintendent Andy Holmlund is overseeing the hiring process of the schools’ Indian Education Coordinator position. Holmlund is serving in the position until filled. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

RONAN — The Ronan District began its school year without an “Indian Education Director.” The position has been open since May and plays a key role in the schools’ Indian education initiative–serving as an advocate for tribal students, parents, and community, which makes up over 57 percent of the district’s student population.

First of its kind in the area, Ronan’s Indian Education Director is responsible for developing, implementing, and monitoring the many facets of the school’s outreach in Indian education including: programs, funding, curriculum, staff development, and the achievement of tribal students. The Director reports on the program and serves as a liaison between the tribal community and schools.

The position is funded through Title VII or “Impact Aid,” which is federal funding the school receives annually in order to “meet the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students.” Title VII is intended to assist the U.S. Government’s unique trust responsibilities to American Indians in terms of education.

Ronan’s Indian Education Director position was established in 1996 by the school’s Indian Education Committee, which is made up of tribal parents whose children attend Ronan schools. The position was created to improve relations between the tribal community and school by integrating tribal staff and content into the schools’ curriculum, assessing tribal students’ achievement and drop out rates, and providing a venue to open dialogue.

The position proved needed. In 1998, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported that American Indians in Montana schools were in a “crisis” situation as drop out rates for tribal students doubled those of their non-Indian peers and accounted for lower achievement rates. The study also reported that there were very few American Indian teachers being hired in schools on or near Montana’s reservations.

Although there is still an achievement gap between the district’s Indian and non-Indian student population, the Ronan Schools have seen improvement since the position was established. The College Board reported that Ronan has seen an increase in Native American graduation rates and proficiency levels in mathematics and reading has improved.

Last spring, the district’s five year Indian Education Director Leslie Caye’s contract was not renewed by the Ronan School Board. The schools’ superintendent Andy Holmlund said the U.S. Office of Indian Education has requested an audit on Caye’s term and the results are pending.

Advertisements for the position closed on August 19 and although there were applicants, the school has yet to select a new Indian Education Coordinator. The position is Indian preference and prefers a Montana Educator license with Councilor and/or Administrative endorsement, which are obtained through a Master’s program.

At this point the school’s superintendent Andy Holmlund has been assuming the position’s duties. Holmlund is a non-Indian who has worked in public schools on reservations in the past. He said the Constitution of Montana has guided his stance on his duties as Indian Education Coordinator.

“It states very clearly under section one, in fact, of the Montana Constitution under Education Goals and Duties: ‘The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity,’” he read.

For more information on the position or the school’s Indian education initiative, parents are encouraged to attend the Indian Education Committee meeting which is held the first Wednesday of each month in the Ronan Middle School library at 6 pm. For more information on the schools visit www.ronank12.edu.

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