District 509-J sets action plans for school year, including better communication.

SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER - Native language teachers recognized at Monday night's 509-J board meeting included, from front left, Warm Springs Culture and Heritage Director Valerie Switzler, Orthelia Patt, Arlita Rhoan, Viola Govenor, and Suzie Slockish. Back left, Pam Cardenas, Merle Kirk, Deanni Johnson, Deanie Smith and Jefferson Greene.
Warm Springs tribal language teachers were recognized, and action plans for School District 509-J were outlined at the Oct. 27 board of directors meeting.

The language teachers who were able to attend the meeting were introduced by tribal Culture and Heritage Department Director Val Switzler and lead teacher Deanie Smith. They included Orthelia Patt, Arlita Rhoan, Viola Governor, Suzie Slockish, Pam Cardenas, Merle Kirk, Deanni Johnson, and Jefferson Greene.

"The native language teachers are doing ongoing work at the school to see the language is revived and survives to the next generation," Switzler said. "I have been working with some of these teachers since 1996. They spend each and every day in the school with the kids," she added.

Smith noted that attendance has improved since the language program began, and they now have more than 100 students enrolled in the program, which teaches three languages – Kiksht (Wasco), Ichishkiin (Warm Springs), and Numu (Paiute). Students have the option of signing up for the language they would like to learn.

Each teacher spoke, telling how they became part of the program and the teacher training they received through a partnership with the University of Oregon. Some of the teachers are elders, who attended reservation boarding school, which prohibited them from speaking their native language.

"I learned and lived my language until the early 1940s, and then watched it fade away. I went to boarding school and learned English at age 11," Arlita Rhoan said.

With the language program, Rhoan said, "What we're hoping for is that our children will learn who they are and to be more in control at school."

"This is also a healing process for our (boarding school) elders, to have that connection with the children. It's healing for all of us," Smith observed.

Melinda Boyle, 509-J director of curriculum and instruction, told the board, "The Cultural and Heritage team is working now with our social studies teachers to write an American Indian History curriculum."

Superintendent Ken Parshall said as he watches the native language teachers work with students, "What stands out is that they love the children and offer care and support."

In a related action, the board accepted a $175,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust to use for literacy and native language instruction at Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

Parshall said this is the first of a two-part grant. Half the funds will be used to hire four half-time native language teachers and one five-hour educational assistant. The other half will be used to hire three educational assistants for small reading groups, and a half-time teacher as a literacy coach for all the teachers at Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

Action plan

The district has drawn up an action plan of areas to focus on for the 2017-18 school year.

. Improve student achievement. Use proven teaching strategies to close the achievement gap through AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and WICOR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading).

. Enhance communication. Hold monthly teacher and classified employee groups to exchange information. Start Leadership for Learning groups, which include administrators and teacher leaders, to focus on good instruction.

. Increase family engagement. Develop a plan to help schools communicate effectively with parents and community members.

. Align management of systems and resources. Develop departmental actions to support student achievement. This includes maintenance, transportation, food service and other departments, so all employees are supporting instruction. Monitor system performance on a regular basis. Create supportive working environments.

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