The Ketchikan School Board heard some harsh criticism Wednesday from a parent of a former district student.
Margaret Cloud, whose son is Native, said the district has made no progress, and has in fact slid backwards when it comes to educating Ketchikan’s Native children.
She said the number of Native students who made it through school and gone on to college has decreased over the last decade.
“This isn’t because nobody cares,” she said. “The Native families don’t care, the people in the community don’t care. It’s because the school district has lacked the initiative and the desire, and maybe it’s the ability to educate Native children. It’s deplorable. It’s wrong, and I’m so disgusted that this is continuing.”
Cloud said many Native parents had negative experiences in school themselves, and feel intimidated by and unwelcome in the district.
Cloud said Native children, too, feel unwelcome.
“They may be tolerated, but who wants to be tolerated?” she said. “I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be accepted. That whole element of ‘practice tolerance.’ Tolerance is, ‘We’ll deal with you but we really don’t want to and we’re really hoping you go away.’ That’s tolerance. Acceptance is a whole other level.”
Cloud said she used to serve on the Native parent advisory board, but the board’s ideas were not accepted by the superintendent. She charges that the district used Native education grant funds inappropriately. For example, Cloud said it was used to hire tutors that helped non-Native students in addition to Native ones.
“Grant money was being stolen from the Native children by refusing to provide services,” she said. “We fought it. We were vocal. We were hated.”
Cloud said she ended up home-schooling her son, who was able to graduate. She challenged the board to step up and improve the education atmosphere for Native children.
“I’m fed up with losing these children every single year,” she said. “It’s all of your responsibilities. It’s everybody’s responsibility to hold you accountable and make you accept your responsibilities and live up to them. Yeah, I am the mom from hell. I am the parent from hell. I am the community member from hell. And I’ll continue to be.”
In response to Cloud’s comments, Council Member Dave Timmerman said he shares her concerns. He notes that several board members are parents of Native students.
Timmerman said the district is working with the Organized Village of Saxman and Ketchikan Indian Community to improve Native education.
Board Member Misty Archibald agrees with Cloud.
“It’s unacceptable to half just over half of our Native students graduating within four years,” she said. “Just from where I sit, I agree 100 percent. This is the job that we signed up for. It’s our responsibility to hold everybody accountable, to make sure that things are implemented in the proper way. If it’s not happening, it’s on us.”
Lee Wallace from the Organized Village of Saxman also addressed the topic. He said he understands Cloud’s comments, and confirms that Saxman and KIC are working with the district to address those concerns.
“When any one of our students in our district succeeds, we all succeed,” he said. “Then there’s a certain percentage of us that aren’t succeeding, then we’re not succeeding. It’s like Misty said, we’ve got to work on it. We’ve got to work in partnership. I’m here to tell you that OVS is here to help and assist with solutions.
Later in Wednesday’s meeting, the board tabled a suggestion from Board Member Stephen Bradford that the board add an advisory seat that would be reserved for a representative of the Native community.
Bradford said his goal was to improve communication between the district and local Native families. Other board members countered that Native parents and officials from the community’s tribal organizations have opportunities to participate. Some board members expressed concern about singling out one ethnic group for special representation.
Also Wednesday, four recently elected School Board members took the oath of office. Those members were Bradford and Michelle O’Brien, both incumbents; and newcomers Colleen Scanlon and Ralph Beardsworth.
The board then chose officers. Ginny Clay was re-elected as board president; Timmerman is the new vice president, and Archibald is the new clerk-treasurer.