By erome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre Public Schools will hire a full-time employee to coordinate activities and resources for and about American Indians in the school district after receiving an increase in federal funds earmarked for Indian education.
"I think it's a good start and a good place for us as we continue to move forward," said HPS assistant superintendent Dennis Parman, who directs the district's Indian education program. Parman told the Havre school board about the new job at its board meeting Tuesday night.
Increased federal allocations to the Title VII program meant the district received about $12,000 more for Indian education than last year, bringing the total to $87,500, Parman said today.
The new coordinator will work with the district's tutors of Indian students; develop a list of experts to help train teachers in cultural sensitivity and Indian culture; and develop a plan to help the district comply with a state law mandating that Indian culture be taught to students and teachers.
The employee will also sit on committees charged with revising the district's curricula. This year, committees will revise the health enhancement, science and technology curricula.
Parman said the district wants an American Indian for the job, and hopes to fill the position by the end of this month.
Parman also presented a report on the cultural awareness resources and activities available at Havre Public Schools. The report is the first part of an internal audit the district is conducting this year to gauge whether it adequately promotes cultural awareness and sensitivity.
Parman's list included: a full-time tutor for Native American students at each school, funded by Title VII; student organizations at Havre Middle School and Havre High School dedicated to cultural activities; a half-time employee who makes home visits to help families of Indian students identified as "high need"; and technological resources including a Web site the district developed that contains links to a variety of educational sites about Indians.
The report also details cultural activities taking place this fall at Havre Public Schools as well as cultural activities local schools have done in the past.
Board member Todd Hanson, a vocal proponent of increased cultural awareness and sensitivity in Havre schools, said he shared the district's report with Native Americans who advise him on issues, and they had concerns that the activities trivialize Indian culture.
Hanson said many of the school's activities focus on subjects like fry bread, beadwork, the buffalo and Indian mythology to represent Indian culture, a practice he said could be "hazardous."
"We need to make sure what we're doing isn't a trivialized or storybook presentation of Indian culture," Hanson said, adding that most history textbooks present Indians as a culture that has been supplanted, leaving only artifacts like teepees.
"Do you have a point you want to make?" board member Jim Heberly asked Hanson.
Hanson responded that he had been making a point.
"My fear is that we are perpetuating that same misunderstanding by a lot of what we are doing," Hanson said. "We are leaving students with a perception that is historical in nature, not accurate as far as the current state of (Indian) culture."
"Given all these observations, what would you have us do?" asked board member Kathie Newell.
Hanson suggested the district assemble a team of cultural advisers made up of representatives from the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap reservations and Indians who live in Havre. He also suggested more training for teachers to make sure they have the background required to teach Indian cultural concepts.
"Who can tell the story? Who can talk about sweetgrass? Who instructed personnel as to the right uses of that information?" Hanson said. "We need to reach out to these communities and especially to elders in those communities to help us better understand their concerns."
Hanson said he hopes the district will continue its internal audit of what classrooms are doing to teach Indian culture, and said district personnel should get more training and attend training functions like the Indian education symposium that Hanson and administrators attended earlier this month in Billings.
Hanson's comments set off a lengthy discussion that included objections from other school board members.
Heberly said he thinks the district is already doing a good job to promote cultural awareness, and that he is concerned about the cost to the district of Hanson's suggestions.
"I'm not going to go out and ask people to pay more taxes to expand this program if that's what it means," he said.
Hanson said people in the Indian community would participate in a advisory team for free.
School board chair Denise Thompson said the district would have to pay teachers to attend training events.
But Parman said the district budgets several thousand dollars every year to pay for professional development, and that many of the training opportunities take place near Havre.
"We can do the things Todd has alluded to without substantial cost to the school district," Parman said, adding that it would be better to bring in experts than to send teachers to them.
Miller said state law and Title VII give the district good direction in the area of Indian education.
"It's all happening in about the right amount of time as long as we can be patient in developing the strategies," he said.
He also said the new cultural coordinator would be able to form an advisory group like the one Hanson had suggested.
Some board members said they want to make sure other cultural groups are included in the district's efforts.
"I'm afraid we are going to limit our efforts to the 20 percent of our Native American students and not the rest of the cultures in our schools," Newell said.
Hanson said that in history textbooks all ethnic groups are well-represented except Indians, and that because Indians are the district's largest minority, he believes the district has an obligation to make sure the curriculum reflects them.