Schools' hiring record criticized

Posted: Friday, February 23, 2001

Two Native organizations presented resolutions to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Monday asking for more Native educators in area schools.

"The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Title IX Parent Advisory Committee requests that the KPBSD actively recruit and hire Alaska Native and American Indian educators and become an example in effectively 'meeting the special educational and culturally related academic needs of Alaska Native and American Indian students' for which (the district is) responsible," it read in part.

The committee members had Rick Matiya, the district's director of Title IX programs, present the resolution to the board.

Rita Smagge, executive director of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, read a supporting resolution from the tribe.

"We are very concerned about these issues," she told the school board.

Connie Wirz, director of the Kenaitze Cuya Qyut'anen Head Start preschool in Kenai and a former district employee, said Natives have been passed over, underemployed or discouraged enough that they have left.

"There are Native educators out there who are qualified and are being overlooked for jobs," she said.

"There is a perception that Native children are marginalized to some extent."

Title IX resulted from the Indian Education Act of 1972 and the Indian, Native Hawaiian and Alaska Native Education Act. Under Title IX, schools can receive extra funding to serve the special needs of Native students. The Kenai Peninsula district has about $214,000 in Title IX funding for the current school year.

The parent advisory committee represents the Native families the program serves.

The committee met Sept. 22 and unanimously voted to draft a resolution addressing the lack of Native hire in the district.

Statistics indicate that 11 percent of district children are Native or Indian, but less than 1 percent of the teachers and support staff are, according to the resolution text.

The district's personnel director, Assistant Superintendent Todd Syverson, later said that the district has seven teachers and 22 other employees listed as Native or Indian. But such ethnic information comes only from optional questionnaires and may be incomplete.

The district has no way of knowing how many job applicants are Native, he said.

School board member Joe Arness asked if people think the district is not an equal opportunity employer.

Matiya responded that people have conveyed to him concerns not so much about exclusion but more about a lack of recruiting and encouragement.

Board member Nels Anderson echoed Arness' remark and asked if there had been any incidents of discrimination.

"If we have qualified people, we certainly want to get them," he said.

Sandra Wassilie, the new board member from Seward, said she had been at the Title IX meeting when the issue was discussed. The concerns were about children and their need for positive role models that represent their culture, she said.

"This is important to parents of many children," she said.

In other school board business:

n Tammy Anderson, from British Petroleum's community relations staff, announced that the company had selected five district teachers for the BP Teachers of Excellence awards for the first semester. She presented commemorative plaques to Jerry Dixon, Renee Henderson, Bruce Rife, Sheryl Sotelo and Lana Syverson. Each teacher will receive a $500 savings bond and an opportunity to visit BP facilities on the North Slope.

Five more will be honored the second semester. One of the 10 will be selected teacher of the year, which includes a $1,500 award.

n School safety and discipline were the subject of a series of policy revisions the board introduced. The revisions were characterized as minor changes to align the district's rules with recommendations issued this year by the Alaska Association of School Boards. Approval of the revisions will be on the agenda for the next school board meeting.

The next school board meeting will be in Homer at 7:30 p.m. March 5 at the Homer High School Mariner Theatre.

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