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School Board, district look to better ties with Natives

Primary aim is to narrow achievement gap between Native and non-Native students

Posted: Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Juneau School Board discussed on Tuesday possible refinements to its Alaska Native student success strategy.

Identifying, creating and promoting school environments and programs to narrow the achievement gap between Native and non-Native students has been a long-standing strategy for the Juneau School District. In an attempt to further narrow the gap, the School Board plans to host "strategic plan focus group sessions" with community members in various locations, meet with the Tlingit and Haida Elders Group, and provide recommendations from those meetings at the Biannual Strategic Plan meeting in April.

"Increasing community involvement in our schools is something that is necessary and this is one way that they can do it, is by going into the community," said Rhonda Hickok, a districtwide administrator and co-chairwoman of the district's Alaska Native Student Success. "So having us into the community organizations, into their buildings, would seem a more welcoming gesture. And a gesture of 'we care' and 'we really want you involved in the education of your children.'"

Hickok said the district is getting a better handle on the achievement gap by producing better data in recent years.

"So in looking at that, we're able to home in on what types of services should be offered at different levels of a child's education experience," she said.

Alberta Jones, the other co-chairwoman of the district's Strategy No. 2, said the steps taken by the district and by the School Board in recent years have been paying off. She said programs such as the Truancy Tracker and Graduation for Success Counselors, Native language and art classes in schools, and grants for Native education are all examples of the progress being made toward narrowing the gap.

Jones said it is important to continue to provide culturally relevant material to engage Native students in the education process.

"For Native people and Native students, it's important to know who they are and where they came from," she said. "Native student success increases if students have good self-esteem, and part of that is knowing who they are."

Hickok said the district plans to continue presenting more ways to engage Native students and narrow the achievement gap by providing more culturally relevant material. She said the district hopes to capitalize on the success of the Tlingit language program at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, now in its third year, by offering a Tlingit language course at Juneau-Douglas High School.

"Hopefully next year we'll be offering it at full credit, so students can get credit for taking the language program here at the high school," Hickok said.

The ultimate goal is to erase the gap altogether.

"I would say that the gap is lessening, but not at the speed you'd want to see it at. But I think any small achievement is a big achievement," Hickok said. "What we've noticed through our data is that a lot of our students that aren't achieving are just barely not achieving."



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