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Juneau needs more Native teachers

Posted: Sunday, March 05, 2000

I read the article in the Empire with concern over the continued growing rate of low scores and drop-outs of predominately Native children. Since the Indian Education Act of 1971, public schools have been receiving federal money to address the needs of Native children. After 29 years, their academic failure is high.

You can meet and talk all you want, but talk is cheap. I can tell you my family stories of being orphaned because of diseases brought by missionaries, cruelty for speaking Native languages, being interned at Funter Bay, school drop-outs, sexual abuses, alcohol and drug addictions, beatings, jail, suicide and murder. All this in the last three generations.

But I cannot tell you how to work with young Native people who share their own family history which may be similar to mine. Perhaps, the pain and distrust of Caucasians are too recent, deep and familiar in too many families. I believe that until there is a concerted effort to hire at least 20 percent Native employees in balance with the 20 percent Native students in Juneau schools, there will be little change in the low test scores. This is a problem state wide.

Frank Hill, co-director and retired superintendent of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative, reports that at the present time there is not one Alaska Native school superintendent in Alaska. Only a handful of Alaska Native school principals and less than 6 percent of all teachers are Alaska Native. Over 80 percent of Alaska's newly hired teachers continue to come from out of state. The full report is in ``Sharing Our Pathways.'' Mr. Hill can be reached at fnfwh@uaf.edu.

The CIRI Foundation has been directing a Teacher Mentor Project to increase the number of eligible and qualified Alaska Native and American Indian teachers in the Anchorage School District. They have assisted 43 Alaska Native and American Indian teachers in obtaining teaching positions.

I do applaud the recent efforts of the Juneau School District and the Juneau Equity Forum project. Time will tell how serious the intentions are when the rhetoric is backed up with action. I hope someday I will read an article about efforts that will have been accomplished in the Juneau School District that reverse the devastating trend of academic failures.

Good luck Juneau.

Donna Ward



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