North Kitsap School District looks to improve Native American education

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School District is working with the Suquamish and Port Gamble S’Klallam tribes to determine the best ways of spending a chunk of government change.

The school district will hold its annual public hearing to review Native American education at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Suquamish Tribal Center. The yearly gathering helps the school district determine its goals within the Native American Education Program and how to best spend federal grants geared toward improving Native American education.

“The tribes are trying to give the kids the best opportunity to succeed,” Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said.

Four schools within the district receive federal grants for Native American education each year: Wolfle and Suquamish elementary schools, Kingston Middle School and Kingston High School.

While the meeting is held just once a year, the tribes are constantly working with the school district to improve the quality of education for their students.

“The collaboration between the district and the tribe is year-round,” Forsman said.

Last month, Forsman and district Superintendent Rick Jones signed an agreement meant to help both the tribe and the district crack down on truancy. The agreement requires the district to notify the tribe when a tribal student is truant or is about to become truant.

Truancy is one of the major issues that affects tribal students in the district, and is likely to be a topic of discussion at Tuesday’s meeting. Topics will be determined by the crowd at the meeting, which has been small in the past.

“It depends on who shows up as to what kinds of things are discussed,” said Lena Maloney, the district’s Native American education coordinator.

The meeting is open to anyone who would like to give input on how the district should spend its federal money. After hearing the public input, a group of tribal parents, students and a representative from the district will make a final decision on how the money will be spent and which programs will best help to improve Native American education. Past programs have included opportunity fairs for secondary students. The fairs give students ideas about what they can do for careers after grduation.

“We try to make it a cultural focus,” Maloney said.

Forsman said having such a focus is vital to keeping tribal students in school. Aside from truancy, a high dropout rate is another prominent issue among Native American students. Forsman said making students feel included motivates them to attend class.

“We try to have the approach to education that is inclusive of tribal students,” Forsman said. “Family involvement is important. And incorporation of tribal elements in education is important as well, to keep the students interested.”

Suquamish tribal students had a dropout rate of 22 percent last year, which Forsman said is actually lower than in years past.

“We’ve been making some progress in that,” Forsman said. “I think those are just the symptoms of some of the past approach to education policies.”

Maintaining a dialogue with the district helps tribal leaders determine which methods do and do not work. The process is ongoing.

“We try to go in and find out what are causing those outcomes,” Forsman said. “That’s a complicated question and one we continue to work on.”

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