About 100 people gathered Tuesday at the Seattle School Board meeting to protest relocating the Indian Heritage program as part of a proposal to consolidate Indian Heritage middle college high school with Northgate Mall middle college high school beginning next school year. Both programs are part of a string of alternative schools in Seattle.
After receiving complaints from parents and community supporters, new Superintendent Jose Banda decided Monday to stall the move for at least a year so the district could meet with parents and community groups.
The Indian Heritage program, created in 1974, focuses on providing an Indian-centered public education to strengthen cultural identity while combating low graduation rates among Native American students. By 1992, all its students graduated and continued on to vocational schools or college, but the school was never quite the same after the death of Principal Bob Eaglestaff, said leaders of the Urban American Indian Alaska Native Education Alliance. The group formed in 2009 to support Native American education in schools after a course on Indian culture was cut from the curriculum at Indian Heritage.
In 2000, the school became one of five middle colleges, alternative high schools focused on helping students who have fallen behind earn enough credits to graduate. The schools also use hands-on teaching in small classes to prepare the students for college.
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Today, only seven of the school’s 50 students are Native American, according to Lesley Rogers, chief communications officer for Seattle Public Schools.
Those gathered at Tuesday’s school board meeting advocated for both the program and the building itself — the Wilson-Pacific Building at 1330 N. 90th St. — where Seattle’s Native American community hosts dozens of events each year, including weekly tutoring, powwows, tribal ceremonies and open-gym basketball.
Some were concerned about losing murals if the building, as planned, is torn down to make way for a new comprehensive middle college building. Others were upset about the initial decision to move the program saying it was made without consulting the Native American community.
“I was not notified nor was my son given written warning about this eviction,” Blaine Parce told the School Board Tuesday night. She said she learned about the change from a friend who works with the Seattle Clear Sky Native Youth Council, which is anchored at the school.
A June 14 letter from Aurora Lora, the executive director of Seattle’s middle colleges, was addressed to students’ families and announced the move, Rogers said. It’s not clear why many parents didn’t receive that message, she said.
Parce’s hands shook as she finished her public testimony in support of continuing the program — even if in a new building. She graduated from the school in 2000 with straight A’s, sometimes bringing her infant son with her to class when she couldn’t find day care.
That same son, now 16, attends the school, and his grades have improved since leaving Nathan Hale High School because of truancy.
“I want my son to have the same opportunities that guided me while I attended Indian Heritage,” she said. She hopes school officials keep a promise to work with the Native American community to identify an appropriate home for the program.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Seattle School Board also passed its $591.4 million operating budget for the next year school year, which is $13.7 million higher than last year because of growing enrollment.
The Times reported last month that the plan includes $23.5 million in savings, mostly small cuts to the central office; continued furloughs for most staff; higher fees for full-day kindergarten; and modifications to the district’s transportation plan.
Community members and school staff also spoke about a new policy outlining objectives for ensuring educational equity regardless of race, gender or other social class.
Several people asked the board during public comment to add “racial” back to the policy’s name to reflect its original intent to eliminate institutional racism in the district. The word was removed by district staff members because they didn’t want to limit its scope just to racial inequity, Rogers said.
The proposal could see a final vote at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 15.