The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Title VII, Indian, Native Hawaiian, and Alaska Native Education, Advisory Committee approved a new set of bylaws and outreach direction for increasing parent and student involvement at its quarterly meeting Wednesday.
The group is under new leadership this year. Conrad Woodhead, half-time principal at Chapman School, was hired as the half-time Native Education Program Coordinator last fall, and now heads “all things Native (education)” for the school district.
Woodhead said he proposed to school district administrators that they add his position last year after seeing a greater need for attention to existing programs, to enhance the opportunities provided for Native students.
“I think it was due,” he said. “I think it was a great move on the part of the (school) district.”
The American Indian and Alaskan Native high school graduation rate is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial or ethnic demographic group across all schools, according to the 2014 Native Youth Report filed through the Executive Office of the President.
There are 1,172 students identified as Alaska Native in the school district through Title VII, roughly 12 percent of the total student population and representing 114 different tribal affiliations, Woodhead said. One goal of the committee, which is required to operate for the school district to receive Title VII funding, is to identify more Alaska Native students under the program and connect them with more resources and services to improve academic success, he said.
Being involved in culturally relevant learning is a “big part of their self-identity,” and for students that don’t have that self-identity, having more opportunities “may help create that part of that identity they may be seeking, that might be missing,” Woodhead said.
No one person within the school district is an expert in the different cultures present in the school district’s Title VII populations, Woodhead said. The more “partnerships we can create to provide cultural relevancy,” and the more specialized and relevant supports students can receive on a regular basis, the more likely they are to feel engaged and invested in academics and their personal school experience, he said.
The school district uses Title VII funds to provide on-site tutors at six of the school district’s 44 schools, Woodhead said. Funds are also used to send students to events like the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program held each summer, which can also provide motivation by offering a new perspective through which to see their role within their own culture, he said.
“ANSEP has a stellar reputation for providing STEM opportunities to students throughout the state,” Woodhead said. “Our student’s participation exposes them to career opportunities and STEM in multiple ways. It also qualifies them for additional summer academies in these areas, and can lead to further opportunities in high school and their post-secondary endeavors.”
Tim Vlasak, the assessment, K-12 schools and federal programs director for the school district, attended Wednesday’s meeting. He said it has been a challenge to make the advisory committee a real presence in the community, and that he “really wants it to become an advisory group, and not just us (administrators) presenting information.”
One of the changes made to the bylaws was that a quorum is no longer required to make policy changes because so few members regularly turn up.
Several ways to address lack of involvement were discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. Homer High School parent representative Joyclyn Graham attended the meeting, and said her biggest interest was improving communications between the school district and community. She said many families aren’t even aware of what services and resources are made available by the funds for Alaska Native students. Through outreach, she said she also hopes more people will work directly with the committee.
“The committee can only be as successful as the people who are involved,” Graham said.
Woodhead said he agrees with Graham. Improving local partnerships has been a key focus of his first year in the new position. He said especially with Project GRAD, an organization that provides secondary and primary educational support outside the school district, Seldovia Village Tribe, and the Kenatize Indian Tribe among others, he has worked to revamp and energize new and existing relationships that “share the same kids,” to provide further options for increasing cultural relevancy in their education.
Jennifer Freeman, Project GRAD coordinator for Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leadership, or KPNYL, and Bonnie Pierce, campus family support manager for Project GRAD, attended Wednesday’s meeting to give members an update on Native Youth Leadership.
The Native Youth Leadership is a program run through Project GRAD. The Native Youth Leadership currently has 119 members, 93 of whom are on the Title VII forms, Freeman said. Students can receive credits with the school district for the academic work completed through the two programs, she said.
In the summer, students have the opportunity to take lessons through the Summer College Institute at Kenai Peninsula College, creating more connections with postsecondary education opportunities, Freeman said.
“We tell the students, ‘Your school year starts when this one is done,’” she said.
One result of the renewed connection is that the Kenaitze Indian Tribe has allowed the school district to work with their grant writer for narratives outside the Title VII program, Woodhead said.
“It’s another example of how Kenaitze and KPBSD have come together to strengthen its partnership and provide learning opportunities for our students,” Woodhead said. “It also allows us access to a grant writer in Alaska familiar with our student population and their needs. Having a grant writer familiar with our unique district and the cultural needs within it has been a tremendous benefit.”
The school district is currently in the middle of applying for the Indian Parent Committee Approval Form to receive next year’s Title VII federal funds, which soon will be officially referred to as the Title VI program changed under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the 2015 reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“It helps be able to demonstrate that the committee has participated in the development of the application we are submitting and that they approve the targeted assistance we provide in the form of tutors, ANSEP participation, and KPNYL (and) Project GRAD,” Woodhead said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.