The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is seeking representatives for the 1,232 Alaska Native and Native American students enrolled in local schools.
Parents, students and staff interested in filling seats on the Title VI — formerly Title VII — Indian Education advisory committee this year will work under a fresh set of bylaws, which are aimed at providing targeted educational support services for a demographic accounting for roughly 15 percent of the school district’s total student population, and one many believe sees the most academic struggle.
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.
Carolyn Colette Choate, an Alaska Native and teacher at Homer Flex School, said the importance of providing services to Alaska Native and Native American students often goes beyond measurable academic improvements and achievements. Getting kids involved in the offered programs helps them find their own sense of identity, she said.
“If you feel a sense of belonging, if you are grounded by a sense of belonging, you are more able to see the healthier paths and options in front of you,” she said.
The school district must operate an advisory committee to oversee where federal Title VI dollars are spent, the amount of which depends on the number of students eligible for assistance under the program. Elected members determine how best to spend the nearly $500,000 in grant money annually.
The school district’s advisory group, despite the prior potential to have up to 86 seated members during any given school year, has historically experienced very low participation.
During the bylaws revision approved last spring, it was agreed a quorum should no longer be required for approval of policy changes because meetings were so poorly attended.
Further, there was often a disproportionate amount of people on the committee from one region versus another, said Conrad Woodhead, the school district’s new half-time Native Education Program Coordinator and Chapman School principal.
This year there were three members from Homer, one from Nikiski, and two from Port Graham, Nanwalek and Seward each, leaving out Tyonek and much of the Central Kenai Peninsula area.
That is a logistical concern for a population that embodies roughly 114 tribal entities. At Homer Flex, Choate said, she works with a student who is Siberian Yupik, one whose tribe was originally from the Aleutian Islands, and one from the Northwest Arctic region.
Woodhead said the new committee structure will hopefully repair rifts in provided services and resources caused by a system that is generally a challenge to manage.
From here on out, parent representatives will fill only six seats, five of whom will represent two or three subregions, and one at-large member who can reside in any subregion. There are two open student representative seats and one staff seat who can also be located in any subregion.
Subregions include Tyonek, Nikiski, Kenai, Sterling, Soldotna, Seward, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Hope, Ninilchik, Anchor Point, Homer, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham, according to a Sept. 7 school district press release.
Parent reps must be the parent, acting local parent, legal guardian or elder of an eligible Title VI student enrolled in the school district on the date of the advisory committee election, according to a Sept. 7 school district press release.
Students must be eligible Title VI enrolled student, and staff can be any school district employee, according to the release.
Three main programs traditionally make up the bulk of how that money is spent, Woodhead said.
On-site tutors are employed at six of the school district’s 43 schools, qualifying students in the sixth through eighth grades are annually sent to the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, and Project GRAD helps identify and support Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leaders at 13 sites.
All three components fulfill requirements stipulated in Title VI for the school district to receive funding annually.
Each are also made stronger by community partnerships, Woodhead said.
For example, after many years of working closely, the Kenaitze Indian Tribe hired two additional tutors on behalf of the school district for Mountain View Elementary and Kenai Middle School, he said.
The grant money, formerly filed as Title VII under the No Child Left Behind Act, has a new emphasis on building those community partnerships under the 2015 NCLB reauthorization, the Every Student Succeeds Act, Woodhead said.
Woodhead has already seen a little proof that some refocusing might yield quick and noticeable effects.
Last year was his first year in the Native Education Program Coordinator position, and the first year the position was even in existence.
Woodhead said one concern he heard from community partners was the number of students that qualify as Title VI seemed low, so he made extra effort to make sure school staff and students knew where and how sign up for assistance.
“…It changes from year to year based on who we lose to graduation and who we gain,” he said. “Our emphasis on enrollment last year saw gains of around 60 kids, so making parents aware of the process has been helpful … so creating an awareness for parents to fill out the paper work on qualifying students is important.”
He said he now cross-checks students enrolled as Alaska Native or Native American to make sure they have Title VI paperwork in.
“Those that don’t, I contact directly,” he said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.