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Indian ed meeting focuses on academic improvement

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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

By Bob Mercer

Capitol Correspondent

OACOMA — Teachers, administrators and other school officials from across South Dakota learned from each other Monday at three dozen sessions during the first full day of the state’s 10th annual Indian education summit.

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One set of presenters featured Jodi Richard, principal at American Horse School, and Ben Sayler, mathematics professor for Black Hills State University and Sanford Underground Research Facility.

Richard spoke about what she’s found effective for her students and parents in the 16 years at American Horse, a school for K-8 students at Allen.

Sayler talked about the significant progress made throughout the Rapid City school district in math the past 10 years.

Standardized testing in South Dakota repeatedly shows large gaps in achievement between white students and American Indian students.

According to Stephanie Weideman, a former state Department of Education official who now lives in Aberdeen and works for DOE on a contract basis, Indian students drop out of public schools at a rate three times that of white students — 6.6 percent vs. 1.8 percent — and the problem is nearly twice as bad at tribal and federal schools in South Dakota, where approximately 11 percent fail to graduate high school in four years.

Teachers at American Horse telephone parents on a monthly basis. “You really need to draw parents in,” Richards said.

She’s found that parents can be uncomfortable coming to school because they don’t know what to expect and perhaps didn’t do well in school.

The school hosts a free dinner, raffles, and even a carnival during parent-teacher conferences this year. “We have a family activity every month,” she said.

American Horse takes its own approach to the school week. Classes dismiss at 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays but run until 4:30 p.m. or sometimes later on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Richards said attendance has improved on Mondays and Fridays because they’re shorter, while the three longer days mid-week allow more academic emphasis.

Sayler participated in the reformation of Rapid City’s math programs in all of the elementary, middle and high schools.

He said the goals are improving student achievement and providing development for teachers to deepen mathematics knowledge and understand student thinking. “Ultimately, that’s what is so important — how students think about math,” he said.

The changes included designating elementary teacher leaders and secondary math coaches in their buildings, bringing in new instructional materials across the board, establishing classes for administrators, holding family nights and focusing on data.

The summit, which had a ceremonial opening Sunday night, continues through today. It is hosted by the state Department of Education.

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