The hand-lettered sign greeting attendants of the Ronan-Pablo School Board meeting Monday night seemed to indicate a change in the way the district would conduct business: “Integration of Native American history and culture: Not a matter of whether but how.”
In the first meeting of its kind, where an ongoing discussion about specific concerns took place between district administrators and members of the Indian Education Committee (IEC), Terry Wing, the curriculum director for Ronan-Pablo public schools, spent almost two hours detailing her vision for incorporating Indian culture into the classroom, recruiting minority teachers and implementing professional standards that would require teachers to complete some form of Native American studies training.
“The integration can’t be done by the school district alone,” Wing told those assembled in the district office. “We need to talk about how we can work with teachers so they become competent and how we can build on state standards.”
Other signs hung on the walls detailing tasks already completed, mainly art and music programs formulated with the assistance of Salish and Kootenai elders, but they also revealed how much work still needs to be done: social studies, communication arts, science, math and technology curricula still need a “Native American perspective.”
One of Wing’s suggestions included an online course to assist with teachers’ professional development, complete with a log-in system that would allow school principals to monitor teacher participation.
Clayton Matt, the former chair of the IEC who was recently replaced by Shelly Fyant, asked Wing how the district was going to ensure teachers complied with the standards.
“This is a good beginning,” he said. “But how does it become a reality in the classroom?”
As school board members looked on stonily, Wing explained that she wanted the standards to be “not like a hammer, but an invitation,” going on to say that new teachers should be given a few years to complete a course in Indian culture because they are already “overwhelmed.”
As the meeting came to a conclusion, with the next one scheduled for Oct. 29, Matt asked the board to take immediate, if symbolic, action.
“We’ve spent a couple of years planning and our philosophy has been set down,” he said. “I think it would be helpful if the board could send a strong message to everyone in the district that this doesn’t start when the curriculum is done, but today.”
Joe Smith, the school board president, declined to send such a signal, saying instead that the proposed changes are “one of them things that just takes time.”