Positive changes in Ronan-Pablo School District 30 were evident last week when long-time educator Julie Cajune was named the new Indian Education Coordinator and the school board publicly expressed its willingness to continue working with the Indian Education Committee (IEC) on a variety of school policy issues for the first time.
“This is a good start,” says IEC member Clayton Matt. “But there is a lot of work to be done and we can’t get complacent.”
Cajune once taught in Ronan and recently served as the curriculum coordinator for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Department of Education. The school board and the IEC agree that she is abundantly qualified for her new position.
However, IEC chair Shelly Fyant says the matter of who Cajune will answer to still needs to be clarified. Although Cajune will technically be employed by the district, Fyant says part of the job description calls for her to serve as an advocate for the Indian community and assure the community’s input into education.
Last spring, the former Indian Education Coordinator for the district, Ben Irvin, was dismissed from his job after the school board voted to terminate his contract, a decision that provoked outrage from many in the Indian community.
For her part, Cajune says, “I’m excited about the possibilities despite the past controversy. I’m a school district employee, so I’ll have to be accountable to that hierarchy, but also to Indian parents and students. But my ultimate responsibility is to the students.”
One of Cajune’s priorities is developing a parental involvement plan for the district. She believes a lot of parents shy away from IEC and Parent Teacher Association meetings because they equate them with either budget discussions or bake sales. She’d like to take a hands-on approach and bring parents directly into classrooms.
“There are a lot of ways parents can be involved, and schools have basically operated in isolation from the community,” she notes. “I’m hoping we can develop meaningful avenues for parents to feel ... involved in making choices for their kids.”
Those concerns were echoed at last Friday’s school board meeting by Fyant, who added that Indian students feel deprived when they have limited opportunities to learn about their own culture in school. Terry Wing, the district’s curriculum coordinator, asked that she and IEC members meet with teachers to begin work on integrating tribal history and culture into the curriculum soon.
Cajune’s optimism regarding the future of the district seemed to be shared by the school board, although in a somewhat less passionate manner.
“It’s for the good,” board president Joe Smith said of the ongoing dialogue. “It’s better for the county, the district and the state. It helps you guys and it helps us.”