Supporters of Native education to plan school

Posted: Friday, August 20, 2004

The informal group talking about a Native-oriented charter school in Juneau will create a formal committee to plan the school but won't submit an application this fall, members said Thursday at ANB Hall.

The committee could partner with Native organizations and the Juneau School District. The group also is looking for parents to get involved.

Charter schools are public schools that set their own curriculum and hire their own staff, but they must be approved by a local school board and the state Board of Education.

Only one of the state's 21 charter schools has a Native focus. Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Yup'ik Immersion School in Bethel has about 190 students in grades kindergarten through six. Instruction is in Yup'ik, although English is increasingly used in grades three and up, said Louie Yannotti, the charter school program manager for the state Department of Education.

An informal and shifting group of people has met several times this summer to talk about Native education issues in Juneau, including improvements in the current schools, a Tlingit-language immersion school, a charter school, and increasing the number of Native college students.

The charter school would start with middle-schoolers and grow to include high school and even the first two years of college, organizers have said.

Andy Hope, one of the organizers of the education forums, said it's time for the group to appoint a formal development committee and work with institutions such as Sealaska Heritage Institute and the Juneau School District to first develop a curriculum.

Sealaska Heritage recently received an $850,000 federal grant to develop a Native-oriented high school curriculum. The school district holds a one-year grant to plan smaller learning communities at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Juneau schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the grant doesn't include money for a coordinator, but a charter school could be one of the topics that is looked at.

"We're eager to meet the needs of Native students and want to work with the Native entity and Native parents in doing so," Cowan said. "As a district, our first priority is to improve programs districtwide so we can reach all Native students, not just those involved in special programs. If they think a special program is best, we'll work with them on the process."

The state disburses competitive federal grants of up to $30,000 to plan charter schools, but only after the school has been approved by a local school board, Yannotti said. The state doesn't offer grants to help people apply for a charter school.

Organizers of the Effie Kokrine Charter School will apply to the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board for a charter in October, said Bob Maguire, director of the Association of Interior Native Educators Learning Style Center.

Organizers, such as the Doyon Foundation and the Fairbanks Native Association, have been working on the proposal for sixth- through ninth-graders for more than a year, he said.

Native teacher recruitment concerned Jennifer Scott, a member of the Juneau group and a teacher in a Native-oriented middle school program. Scott said it's hard to find and keep Native teachers.

"These are programs that children look to. They're markers in their lives," she said. "We don't have many Native markers. We need role models that say they can make it, so can I."

The local meetings have been sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau ANB Camp 2, ANS Camps 2, ANS Camp 70, and the Tlingit & Haida Indians of the City & Borough of Juneau.

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