Earlier this month, Seattle Public Schools quietly ended a partnership with the Urban Native Education Alliance, citing missing paperwork and noncompliance.
The district sent a June 5 letter to the nonprofit saying it had seen “repeated evidence” that the group wasn’t upholding its end of a partnership agreement — a deal that grants free space for activities in public schools and provides student information to community-based organizations that seek to boost student growth.
The Alliance provides resources and cultural education to Native American students outside the school day. It runs the Clear Sky Native Youth Council, a free, twice-weekly after-school program that provides free dinners, cultural activities such as drum-making, prayer services, job training and a network of adults — including community elders — who keep tabs on students.
The Alliance relied on the partnership agreement, which was through a district initiative called Seattle Public Schools Community Alignment Initiative, for free access to the commons and gymnasium area of Robert Eagle Staff Middle School.
The decision comes as the School Board and the district’s first Native American superintendent, Denise Juneau, are considering the path forward for Licton Springs K-8, an option school that emphasizes Native American history and cultural practices.
In a statement, SPS said it was thankful for the program’s support of Native youth and families, but was forced to terminate the agreement despite “extraordinary” effort by the district to communicate with the Alliance about the terms of the partnership.
But the Alliance’s leadership tells a different story. They said the decision came without warning, and that they already provided the information requested about the program’s attendance and plan. They said they reject the decision, and plan to voice their disagreement at the next School Board meeting June 26.
“We bring enrichment, education and enlightenment and many resources that support the well-being of Native students,” said Sarah Sense-Wilson, UNEA’s executive director. “This is an assault on our students.”
Here and nationwide, Native American students post some of the lowest academic outcomes of any student population in public schools. In Seattle schools, they are disciplined more often than other racial groups, and are overrepresented in the district’s special education program.
The organization says that for more than a decade, 100% of the students who regularly participate in Clear Sky have graduated from high school. This year, Clear Sky attracted nearly 100 students.
The building is in the Licton Springs area, which is Duwamish holy ground. The now-shuttered Indian Heritage school operated on the field adjacent to the Robert Eagle Staff Middle School. Before its demolition, a group of Native teen girls — Sense-Wilson’s daughter among them — began meeting weekly in the cafeteria about 12 years ago, forming Clear Sky. Then the parents formed a nonprofit, the Alliance.
Juneau said Thursday that the group can still pay to rent the space like other organizations — but that the type of partnership the Alliance had was better suited for larger partners such as the city.