NKSD, tribal relations stronger than ever

LITTLE BOSTON — The latest meeting between the North Kitsap School District and the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish tribes revealed that although federally-issued impact aid funds have been steadily decreasing under the Bush administration, relations between the North Kitsap groups have been on the rise.

The purpose of the March 17 meeting was to come together and review what impact aid funds have been received by the district and how they have been used, said NKSD executive director of finance and operations Nancy Moffatt. Impact aid funds are issued to pay for students whose families live or work on federal land — including reservations and military bases — and are not taxed when disbursed to the district.

“Starting with this federal fiscal year, the feds have cut impact aid by 8.2 percent, so we are feeling the effects of that,” Moffatt said, noting that during the 2004-2005 school year, the district received $1.1 million, which declined to slightly more than $987,000 in 2005-2006. That number will likely drop to around $857,000 in 2006-2007.

The district’s pocketbook may be taking a hit but the community is reeling in the benefits of a positive NKSD/tribal relationship that has been steadily improving for nearly a decade. The quest for communication between the two groups began in 1997 when Dr. Raymond Reyes, associate vice president for diversity at Gonzaga University, was invited into the community to share his expertise.

“Dr. Reyes came in and worked with administrators and community members and tribal representatives,” said NKSD assistant director for learning support services Dixie Husser. “From that work, almost a year, they came up with three issues that were really bogging us down.”

Those three focus areas were trust, racism and communication. And as the lines of communication opened, progress was made with the first two issues.

“We have parent/teacher conferences on site each quarter, we have a new teacher orientation day before school starts (and) we have monthly meetings with junior high administration just to talk about student concerns,” Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe career and education director Jill Metcalf explained of how they are developing trust between parties. “One of the main things that has come from this collaboration is that our Native American students have scored far beyond the state average; it’s really improved.”

In addition to creating tribal education departments and working to close the WASL scores gap between tribal and non-tribal students, elementary school family reading nights and picnics have been set up on the reservation and helps promote better relationships between all, Metcalf said.

“There is also more openess in teachers requesting that tribal members come in and do mini-lessons in some cultural aspect,” Husser added. “The climate is so much better and when climate improves and student learning improves, differences melt away because you are learning from each other.”

Elementary schools are also initiating culturally-influenced curriculum such as the Northwest Indian reading program at Wolfle, Suquamish, Breidablik, Vinland and Poulsbo. Wolfle and Breidablik are also offering a math/science curriculum that explores the structure, use and importance of canoes.

Another way the tribes and the district have reached out to their tribal students is through opportunity fairs, which express the belief that one can find success in school just the way they are, Husser said.

The district will be hosting a fair for sixth, seventh and eighth graders May 25, which will focus on how to “take advantage and create opportunities in your current educational settings,” Husser said.

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