President Russell Begaye said that DODE has an opportunity to become a conduit between Navajo students and top-rated schools.
Published June 12, 2017
FLAGSTAFF – On Thursday, Jun. 8, Navajo Nation President Begaye attended a Department of Dine Education (DODE) meeting that addressed the process of transferring the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) Navajo district administrative functions (formerly known as Education Line Offices) to DODE through the P.L. 93-638 Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act.
The president maintained that tribal schools, whether BIE, charter or 638 programs, need to address the low levels of achievement that exist across the Navajo Nation.
“I’d like to see specialized schools focused on specific areas of study like math, science and arts. I’d like to see preparatory schools that will empower students with top-level education,” President Begaye said. “We have the opportunity on the Nation to do this. We need our schools to be the conduit between our students and Ivy League and other top-rated schools.”
DODE Superintendent Dr. Tommy Lewis, Jr. said the proposal is to assume the leadership and infrastructure so that Navajo district teachers and leaders can provide adequate and proper attention to Navajo student’s progress.
“It’s not about taking over schools, we are embarking on something that will make systemic changes,” he said. “The status quo is broken. By utilizing these federal dollars in this way, we will fulfill the president’s vision to send students to medical and law school while retaining their culture and language. It will also provide funding to the unfunded DSAP.”
The purpose of the meeting was to develop strategy to fully implement DSAP in an era of budget cuts at both the federal and Navajo Nation level. A process to transfer the BIE Navajo district functions to DODE was explored but all agreed that much work and negotiation will need to be done before the plan is finalized.
“Phase I would be the transfer of the BIA and BIE Navajo District functions to the Nation which include functions and staff to help implement the Dine’ School Accountability Plan,” Lewis said.
A large part of the conversation was to strategize how to build capacity to expand departmental staff and exercise tribal sovereignty at the same time.
Dr. Wendy Greyeyes, a consultant for DODE, explained, “In assessing the education on the Navajo Nation, Congress wants evidence of success which will necessitate an increase in staffing, across the board. We cannot rely on imposing new functions on an already stressed staff,” she said. “We also need to understand the federal funding process through DOI and also our own tribal processes.”
President Begaye suggested that DODE and district officials maintain good relationships with Navajo school and education boards.
“We fully support improving education for our children but we need the boards to see eye to eye on these issues. When they come to meetings with DODE, they need to see a one-stop shop. We need to maintain these connections,” he said.