Officials Address Yupiit School District Problems

Nearly 46 percent of the state’s schools showed Adequate Yearly Progress in the national tests required by the No Child Left Behind standards. That leaves 275 schools that did not meet all the measurements of the test. Many are familiar with being on the list – one school has not met the standard in eight years. And they are aware that the state will take corrective actions beginning with an improvement plan after the first year. At the end of the range of corrections, personnel are replaced, a new curriculum is put in place, students are allowed to transfer. And finally, the school district loses control.

Last summer, the state intervened in the Yupiit School District and began a multi-year plan to show improvements in the three schools in the district.

Legislative hearings in February pointed out friction in the working relationship between the school district and the Department of Education.  Legislators were told there was not true dialog between state and local people – and the district did not feel it was being included when decisions were made.

Six months later Bethel Representative Bob Herron says the relationship could still be better.  He says the process and the results of the intervention are still not defined to his satisfaction.“I’ll be polite, I’m extremely disappointed in the Department’s attitude. And I’m going to continue to work and kick their butts that they need to change their approach to my school district,” Herron said.

Herron says he’s looking for a cooperative management style.  Not a top-down approach that avoids responsibility for the outcome.  Herron says the department must admit that the process being used in Yupiit isn’t working.

The Department of Education sees positive results.   Deputy Commissioner Les Morse says the first steps have taken place, and the three year goal is to put the support in place for the district itself to carry on.  And he says the district has reached out – for example, with the state following the district’s ideas on improving how students learn to read.

“They’re engaging our people that are supporting them and trying to make sure that we’re working together.  And that’s what I see … the people on the ground doing the work – the teachers,  the principals and our coaches that go out and work there – are working together,” Morse said.

Yupiit Superintendent Howard Diamond says he is still concerned that the state Trustee – part of the intervention team – does not collaborate with the district before decisions are made.  He says the state is looking only at numbers – the result of one annual test. But the school district is looking at improving all the root causes of why schools fail the tests – teachers, parents, the communities and the students themselves.

“Our Communities are going through a Wellness Journey.  And they are looking at improving the entire community,  They talking about improving their schools, their families,  and how they relate to each other. And during this Wellness Journey we are a part of it.  And we are very happy to be a part of it.  Because we feel as the communities improve, as the families start to take more interest in their student’s success in school, as a by-product, test scores will improve,” Diamond said.

Diamond says success will not be measured in a test score.  He and the school district are looking for systemic changes that will be seen many years from now.

Morse says even the federal government sees the goals of the No Child Left Behind program as unrealistic.    Those call for one hundred percent proficiency in every school by 2014. Morse says the state is happy with a consistent, reasonable improvement.   He says the Department is putting a lot of support efforts in two districts – Lower Yukon and Yukon Flats.  But the state is stepping back from its level of involvement with the Northwest Arctic District.

“So there’s a lot of districts, and a lot of varying places in terms of the support that we provide to them.  All with the same ultimate goal of improving achievement,” Morse said.

Representative Herron recommends the Department of Education reevaluate the work going on in Yupiit in light of success elsewhere.  And he recommends the local educators have more of a say in their future.  He says change has to be made across the board – not just locally.

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