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Muskogee Creek Nation letter expresses concerns about Indian Education Program

Posted at 10:31 PM, Jan 22, 2020

The Muskogee Creek Nation is objecting to Tulsa Public Schools plan to eliminate positions in the Indian Education Program.

There are more than 3,000 Native American students representing 65 tribes attending Tulsa Public Schools.

The Creek Nation is concerned this program will be hit hard by the $20 million budget cut at Tulsa schools.

On their Facebook page, the Muscogee Creek Nation posted a letter the principal chief and second chief sent to TPS superintendent Deborah Gist.

They express concerns about quote, "Your recent decision to eliminate positions, including certified staff, within the indian education program."

Since the program is funded through two federal grants, they question the need to cut positions.

When 2 Works for You asked TPS about this, the district sent us a statement that the proposed changes at the Indian Education Office are quote, "Not intended to reduce expenses but to enhance supports."

TPS spokeswoman Lauren Partain says instead of seven academic advisors at the district office and four teacher assistants in schools, they'll put three year-round secondary student specialists at the district and eight elementary teacher assistants in schools with the largest numbers of Native American students.

The district also plans to expand summer enrichment programs.

Partain also said reorganizing the team means deleting and creating positions and qualified team members are encouraged to apply for the new positions.

Tulsa Public Schools released a statement regarding the Indian Education Program.

Our Indian Education program provides critical supports and services to more than 3,000 Native American students representing 65 tribes. We are deeply committed to implementing culturally sustaining curricula, providing after-school tutoring, and affirming and celebrating our students’ Native American heritage and identities. We will ensure that every Native American student achieves college and career readiness through an increased emphasis on heritage education, targeted and individualized academic supports for elementary students, and more intensive assistance with our Native American students at the high school level. These are integral services to our Native American families – and even as we navigate continued fiscal challenges – we will continue to invest in and strengthen our Indian Education programming. Simply put: regardless of any potential staffing changes, Native American students at Tulsa Public Schools will continue to receive robust academic and cultural supports. Our culturally sustaining programming would not be possible without the continued support of the communities we serve. Community voices play an integral role in both guiding and implementing the programming that we provide to our Native American students and families. We engage in regular tribal consultations, work with the US Office of Indian Education, and have close working partnerships with two parent committees.

In the fall of 2019, Tulsa Public Schools launched a comprehensive community engagement effort to help the district redesign its budget for the 2020-2021 school year and beyond. This effort was in response to an anticipated structural deficit of $20 million in general operating funds, and initial recommendations for the redesigned budget were presented to the Board of Education in early January 2020. At the same time, as a continuation of our efforts to fully align district office team structures to best meet the needs of schools, the district’s senior leadership team worked to identify opportunities where changes to staffing structures could improve services to schools and families. One of the teams identified for staffing changes is our Indian Education Office. While those proposed changes create general fund cost-savings in some areas, our focus is on improving services to children and families. The proposed changes to Indian Education are not intended to reduce expenses but to enhance supports as we see a reduction in federal grant funding (Title VI) due to declining students with eligible 506 forms.

With the proposed changes to Indian Education, we have an exciting opportunity to decrease district-office based positions and increase site-based supports for Native American students. The current team structure includes seven district-based 10-month academic advisors and four site-based teacher assistants. The proposed changes to the team structure would – if approved by our Board – shift those roles to three year-round secondary student specialists and eight site-based elementary teacher assistants. We know that students can lose up to 40% of their school-year learning during the summer months, so these student specialist positions will play a key role in expanding access to summer learning and enrichment opportunities for our Native American students. We have seen strong results from our site-based support model, and we look forward to the possibility of expanding site-based services to our eight elementary schools with our largest Native American student populations. As with any team reorganization that includes the deletion and creation of certain positons, any of our team members who are qualified for and interested in these roles are welcomed and encouraged to apply.

We are grateful for the community’s clear and strong interest in our program, and we are confident that the potential changes to our Indian Education team will make a meaningful difference in expanding access to support services for the Native American students in our care.

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