Education in Our Backyard
The heartache over education extends into our backyard across Indian Country, no matter where you’re from. We have placed such a high value on an education that it’s sitting right on the table next to your daily meals, cup of coffee, first breath or the last thought on your pillow. Of late and locally, it’s a stress-induced topic and quite sensitive when we start peeling back the layers of accountability, performance, change in administration, hiring practices and more.
For some educators, the topics can range from innovation and a strong desire to give it all you got every day, all the way to sitting in a corner wondering how you are going to manage your workload on top of your life outside of the classroom. For parents, community or onlookers, we might get excited about the annual activities, the cute performances, award ceremonies, new classroom activities, looking forward to conference time and for some, seeing progress as a smile, a complete sentence, some demonstration of a year-long goal and the joy that our kids express about coming or going to school.
I would be remiss, maybe even negligent, if I didn’t mention the complacency or turmoil that permeates the shaky foundation of Indian education. We are facing continuous turnover in leadership for a lot of reasons. Most often we don’t ever get to know or come to understand, as a lot of it is handled under the auspices of an Executive Session, followed by resignation, administrative leave, termination or non-renewal of a contract. Those vague methods of replacing leadership are the nature of the beast in tribal controlled schools with their own policies and decisions. Hopi schools are now all tribal controlled, each with their own school board governance.
While we might attempt to form relationships with new leadership, hear their intent to work within our schools, maybe put a little faith in their experience… with our track record, it’s hard to believe that they will be there in a year, much less three months. I do say this with a grain of salt, that it is a very political endeavor to work in your own community, be supported and make progress. You learn to celebrate small wins. This year in education, like any other, aims to be a surprise and a big one for our junior high and high school.
CURRENT ADMINISTRATION AT HJSHS
Hopi Junior Senior High School (HJSHS) did not renew the contracts of administration for Principals at the end of the 2015-2016SY. The school has seen two Superintendent’s in 2 School Years (SY). Citing a personal decision, the prior Superintendent left in December 2015 after being in his position for a little over a year. A new Superintendent came in April 2016 and stayed for about three months and left citing health reasons. Both of these accounts were shared in a local newspaper. As of current, I am aware of the appointments of new leadership within our high school as well as the questions that people have of certification. Though I have not asked directly for the certification of any individual in acting/interim or newly hired positions of Administration, I am sharing links to what is available through Arizona Department of Education’s certification page for “interim adminsitrators.” Basically, if you are planning to go into administration and enroll in an appropriate pathway through a university, you are now qualified to apply for an interim certificate and be suitable for employment in districts or schools that are accepting this.
The traditional and most commonly known route would be to complete a Master’s level course of study (degree or certificate seeking) that includes a requirement of ‘x’ minimum years of teaching, an internship (unpaid) and an Institutional (University Program) recommendation. In addition, you would take the proper Administrative exam identified by your state and submit required documents with associated fees to the certification unit to be issued your certificate.
While attending the Hopi Education Summit on July 20, 2016, Mr. Alban Naha was introduced as the interim/acting Assistant Superintendent. He seemed very jovial and supportive in his welcome to attendees as well as in his participation in the summary forum. I went to enrollment activities on Monday and Tuesday, July 25 & 26, 2016, at the Hopi Junior Senior High School and was informed that Mrs. Lucille Sidney was going to be the Junior High Principal. I did see her signature as such in the paperwork that was issued. Last night’s Special School Board Meeting was posted and I did attend as there were a number of recommendations for hire and my concern has been that there may not be enough teachers to start the school year. I became aware that Mrs. Sidney is in the position of Head Teacher for Junior High (official capacity/title). It was shared with me in passing that she will, however, be the new Junior High Principal. At this time, there is no High School Principal. There were two items on the agenda last night under recommendations for hire that were moved to an added agenda item, as Executive Session. One of those was a teacher position and the other was the High School Principal. I did not stay to hear the outcome, but you are able to call the school to ask what the outcomes were with that item and recommendation.
CERTIFIED OR NOT?
To be clear, I have not personally seen the advertisement or the requirements of the job for Hopi Junior High School or High School Principal. There are questions raised around experience, degree programs, and certification of individuals in or soon to be appointed to administrative leadership positions. Without any direct knowledge of the credentials of persons, there appears to be an interim certification option. At present, we have one employee in a separate position who is signing as the Junior High School Principal and it is confirmed that Mr. Naha has officially been hired as the Assistant Superintendent. I don’t know if either of those positions were advertised (for any length of time) or created and appointed. You can inquire with high school administration for those School Board minutes pertaining to their hire, job descriptions, qualification or any other such information at 928-738-5111.
Here is an excerpt from the link pertaining to interim administrative certification; “Interim Administrative certificates are issued in the areas of supervisor, principal and superintendent. The certificate entitles the holder to perform the duties described under the specific certificate. The certificate is valid for one year from the date of issuance and may be extended yearly for no more than two consecutive years. The candidate must be enrolled in an Arizona State Board approved alternative path to administrator certification program, or an Arizona State Board approved administrator preparation program. Verification of Structured English Immersion (SEI) training is required for initial issuance. An individual is not eligible to hold the interim administrative certificate more than once in a five-year period.”
Technically, you could be enrolled in a program towards Superintendent or Principal certification and apply for the interim certificate to serve in that capacity. Many assumptions can be made, though ultimately, you have a School Board that establishes or approves criteria for positions, directs or approves posting of open positions, might participate in interviews (if available) and approve the hire of persons to fill the positions for Hopi Junior Senior High School. If you have questions or concerns, you can call the school for details. I’d encourage you to attend a school board meeting or send your inquiries in writing to the attention of the school board. If you wish to address the board directly, you would have to write in and ask to be placed on the agenda, you could also attend a meeting and utilize their forum of Call to the Public, though there are limitations to that as well. Utlizing Call to the Public can mean that your questions or concerns may not be addressed or answered if you don’t follow up with anything in writing or indicate that you want a response. Be specific if there are things you are wanting addressed that have not been answered and follow the internal protocols/process first. Save yourself any confusion or miscommunication by starting the process and asking for a point of contact for follow up.
NEW HIRES, NOT CERTIFIED IN ARIZONA
For purposes of time and word count, I am using few examples here. A recommendation to hire an out-of-state applicant was made and questions of the start date were asked of one acting administrator, to which the board member received a smile and no verbal response before they answered their own question with, “You’re working on that.” A nod and more smiling seemed to suffice. The additional question was of this person’s certification.
Based on School Board review of supporting documents of the applications, some applicants are not certified to teach in Arizona. One recommendation for hire did not include an application but what appeared to be a typed, one page, double sided submission of something. A board member did ask that an application be submitted and there was some discussion about the way in which the interview went. While some attendees shared among themselves that they had questions, this was a Special Meeting, there was no call to the public. The meeting was carried out between the 3 School Board officials in attendance along with the Administrative Secretary, Business Manager, Assistant Superintendent and Head Teacher for Junior High. Mr. Naha and Mrs. Sidney provided their information of applicants along with their recommendations, as they were handling the interviews along with a couple of other staff that sat in when available.
Alongside the recommendations for hire, there was mention that the school was in dire need of teachers, that they would be taking a chance in hiring some of the applicants and that there was some trust in the current leadership that things would work out. Some discussion was entertained around the new 5 block instructional schedule. School Board members had been issued packets with more details and a few questions were asked, along with some acknowledgment of the work that had been done to date in preparing for the school year. As a parent, this was certainly a tough meeting to endure. As a community member, it’s hard to know how much the rest of our parents and families in the community will be aware of the impact of these decisions for education. As an individual with educator and administrator experience, it was without question, creating a deep fear with great uncertainty for the future of HJSHS education that I have ever witnessed. All one can do is HOPE, PRAY, and stay involved to the extent that one can be.
A YEAR TO GET CERTIFIED
Most of the candidates who were recommended for hire, without certification, are being given one year to obtain their Arizona certification. Although, the link below also indicates what is required of reciprocal teaching licenses, as this was the option that one administrator indicated would be used for those applicants. A reciprocal teaching certificate or license would mean that possibly a teacher coming from another state is certified (in that state). He or she would bring their current certificate and supporting documents to the Arizona certification unit and submit them to receive an Arizona certificate to teach.
In all fairness to practicing educators or those holding a teaching or administrator certificate, one is able to walk into the certification office with all documentation in hand and walk out with their certificate within an hour or less. You do have to have current items, but it is doable.
PARENTS RIGHT TO KNOW
If you are among the public concerned about certification and having a qualified educator in the classroom to provide instruction to your children, you have rights to this information. You can walk into the school or call and ask to review the certification and credentials of your teachers (paraprofessionals and administrators included). While it may not change the outcome, these people could still be employed, you can keep open communication with your student and be an advocate when you are concerned with anything related to their academics. This means everything from struggling students, inconsistent grading or grade reports, missing grades, homework (including lack of it), etc.
This link is the highly qualified professionals flier that shares a “Parents Right to Know” that reads:
Parents Right-to-Know (Teacher Qualifications)
SEC. 1112. LOCAL EDUCATIONAL AGENCY PLANS.
(e) PARENTS RIGHT-TO-KNOW.—
(1) INFORMATION FOR PARENTS.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—At the beginning of each school year, a local educational agency that receives funds under this part shall notify the parents of each student attending any school receiving funds under this part that the parents request (and in a timely manner), information regarding the professional qualifications of the student’s classroom teachers, including at a minimum, the following:
(i) Whether the student’s teacher— (I) has met State qualification and licensing criteria for the grade levels and subject areas in which the teacher provides instruction;
(II) is teaching under emergency or other provisional status through which State qualification or licensing criteria have been waived; and
(III) is teaching in the field of discipline of the certification of the teacher.
(ii) Whether the child is provided services by paraprofessionals and, if so, their qualifications.
(B) ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.—In addition to the information that parents may request under subparagraph (A), a school that receives funds under this part shall provide to each individual parent of a child who is a student in such school, with respect to such student—
(i) information on the level of achievement and academic growth of the student, if applicable and available, on each of the State academic assessments required under this part; and
(ii) timely notice that the student has been assigned, or has been taught for 4 or more consecutive weeks by, a teacher who does not meet applicable State certification or licensure requirements at the grade level and subject area in which the teacher has been assigned.
I say this on the end of a heavy sigh, that educators who are well aware of what it has cost them in an education, internship, certification fees, in time and effort to hold that certificate and credentials, it is a straight gut check to morale in hiring non-certified staff at any level that requires specific certification.
As parents or guardians, you hear first hand from your kids what is happening in their classes or across campus. As a teacher or colleague, you know what kids have to share about their other classes, you may also see the difference in what you put in versus what is happening elsewhere.
Education is a job of great faith and commitment. Though we have many great individuals who are in it for our kids and work with their hearts every day, we also have complacency in classrooms and in staff. A great deal of turnover in leadership is due in part to the politics of the culture of resistance to change. This resistance gains momentum with rumors, creating petitions, infiltrating staff break rooms and makes its way to dinner tables. All of this negativity plants seeds in the decisions that are not about or for kids. These types of efforts eventually overshadow the work that needs to happen in order to support academic changes. I know there are a multitude of reasons that are created to justify these types of behaviors and conduct, although I don’t know that there is any good reason to indulge in legitimizing it or to perform a job as status quo. Start thinking now about how you want to be involved in the positive change that needs to occur… there’s still more.
Having attended the recent Hopi Education Summit as well as speaking with community members, there are questions about teachers from the junior high (or elementary) levels being moved to teach high school courses. I wasn’t aware of the accuracy of this until last evening. The link below is a faqs sheet for the secondary (high school) certificate grade level changes to certification requirements. These items spell out for us that the Arizona Department of Education has moved to approve that individuals with elementary certification which used to cover only k-8, can now be considered and hired for high school, content specific areas, if they can demonstrate content knowledge in that area or subject that they will be teaching (Re-read that at least 2 or 3 times before it settles in).
This can be taken to mean that if a certified teacher of grades 6, 7, or 8, have taught or have taken courses to be certified in history, math, science, english or other areas are now eligible to be placed in that same content area or subject of a high school (grades 9-12) classroom. This document legitimizes those moves of teachers from junior high to high school. This is however, content specific. It does not include self-contained classes where a teacher would provide instruction for a subjects or content areas to a specific grade.
If you aren’t sure of a teacher’s qualifications, that Parents Right to Know document indicates you are within your rights to ask and be provided proof of their qualifications. It is a simple request and I think this can be done respectfully, with a quick turnaround from administration in providing documentation. Talking to the teacher helps too. Every year it is a huge undertaking to plan effectively for instruction and I am sure that if this is a change they are embracing, they are more than willing to share how they are doing this with you.
I don’t want to discount the fact that we have some AWESOME, AMAZINGLY TALENTED and EXPERIENCED teachers who will be an asset in high school classrooms. As mentioned before, you do have people in our schools with hearts in education and they are doing great things for the students and families they get to serve. I look forward to seeing how this changes and contributes to the progress needed for Hopi education. And yes, I am fearful that there will be decisions made that are not reflective of the intent of this new facet of utilizing resources in education to move students along. We can no longer wait to see if it’s going to work, there has to be a means of accountability and structure that I hope is going to be explained to us soon. Students who are in these classes are going to be able to tell if these changes are meaningful and I would hope that administration is able to call attention to and make effective adjustments when this is not the case. We won’t know if we don’t ask, so please keep your ears open and ask questions of your kids and the teachers when you don’t know something or have a concern.
CHANGES FOR 2016-2017SY
You are being issued a two sided document about changes at HJSHS for the 2016-2017SY at the completion of your Enrollment adventure. I suggest you read it and ask questions of the Administrative Leadership Team that is noted as having developed this document. No names are listed as to who the team consist of. Call 928-738-5111 to ask who you would speak to about your questions.
“New Student Background Checks” is a notation on your enrollment checklist. When I asked, I was told by the Assistant Superintendent that this was pertaining to Parent Volunteers. I did redirect him to the notation that indicates it references New Students and he again deferred to it being about Parent Volunteers. He also shared that the individual responsible for signing off on that item was not present to address my question.
I do think it’s important for administration to be aware of and be able to answer questions that we have. If you are not sure about this part of your enrollment process, please ask and make sure you are directed to the appropriate people who can answer your questions. If you do not get an answer, please continue to ask who is next in line that you can address your question to. It does feel redundant at times, but be persistent and don’t give up. You are the model for your children in advocacy, they watch everything we do and they will eventually be thankful for what they learn or take away.
I have had a lot of thoughts since I first began my career in education, then administration and my year-long break from it all. My heart has not stopped beating for Education, if anything, I’m a tad more riled up and I still want to put my efforts in the elements of change. As a community member, it makes me proud to know that regardless of what is served in an education, we all have a power over of how much we learn from it or put into it.
I observed a different side of things last evening and I went home thinking and later praying that at the end of every day… I hope people practice reflection and ask themselves/ourselves if what they contributed to was a valiant effort, that what they committed to in that day was having a positive influence and resting on that thought. If you should ever think or feel that the investment you made could be better, then pray on that and wake up to Be better and Do more than you did yesterday. Every day, every breath is a choice. Let’s make this year our best year ever, but start with TODAY.
GET & STAY INVOLVED
It’s the beginning of a new school year and we are all committed to things. In any way you can, big or small, start thinking of how you can get and stay involved. Is it parent involvement, school improvement, attending school board meetings, volunteering or you have some other way to contribute? Make that your goal. Talk to people, encourage the positive and always strive to be a part of the solution. I am working through my own goals and commitments, but it starts within my own heart and home. So here we go people, challenge yourself and your family to be involved. Blessings to everyone for a healthy and happy school year!!
COMMENT & SHARE
I hope this was helpful and that you are able to form your own thoughts about how the information will guide you to be a part of the change and support. Please feel free to leave a comment and share this. You never know who you might inspire to become involved.
STATE LEVEL ADVOCACY FOR INDIAN EDUCATION via NIEA; Public Comment Due August 1, 2016.
I just received this email link from NIEA and am sharing the link to post or submit your comments related to how states will be held accountable under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). We need more voice from Indian Country as it is not always clear or evident that the state has any direct link to tribally controlled schools for resources in the area of school improvement or accountability measures.