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Anderson eyes changes in BIA school system

The Bureau of Indian Affairs school system should be a place to try out new ways to educate Native youth, assistant secretary Dave Anderson said this week.

Anderson, a high-school dropout who later went to college and received an MBA, doesn't want BIA schools to be looked at as a "secondary" choice of education. He thinks they should play a primary role in developing a new generation of tribal leaders.

"I really believe that if we're going to be successful in economic development as Indian people, it has to start with our young people. Anderson told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Wednesday during a hearing on an economic development bill. "We need to start cultivating the attitude of success."

To that end, Anderson is promoting some new initiatives that will change the face of the BIA school system. One is a proposed leadership academy. The other is a curriculum that emphasizes personal success and financial management.

"We have never taught success 101 in our schools," he said.

Tribes and Indian educators will get a chance to comment on both proposals next month. The BIA is holding several consultation meetings on education the week of August 16-20. Several other topics, not just the academy and the curriculum, are also on the agenda.

The leadership academy, Anderson stressed this week, will be innovative. He was inspired, in part, by learning about a school serving an Asian community that emphasizes high levels of achievement

"They had the highest math scores, the highest economic scores and the highest science scores," he recalled. "Now I'm a believer that Native kids are not born into this world any less brain cells than these Asian students."

Anderson said BIA schools should educate Native youth in areas that will help build a brighter future in Indian Country. Economic development will be one of them.

"I want to start teaching our students investing 101, how to save and invest," Anderson said.

After months of relying on holdovers from his predecessor, Anderson is bringing in some new people to carry out his goals. This week, he gathered a group to identify where a leadership academy might be located. Up to two schools are being considered for the project.

"In our leadership academies we want our parents to be able to sign contracts with the teachers and the students that they will support those students getting homework," he said. "We want our teachers to start carrying cell phones and if these students have any questions, that they can access a teacher or a tutor."

"We want to go so far that the only way you can graduate is if you're accepted into a college or a vo-tech school," he added.

The education process won't end in the classroom either, he said. The academies will emphasize outdoor activities, health and nutrition and sports, he said.

"I never realized this, but being head of all our school systems, we have the ability to create a whole different model," he said.

According to the BIA's Office of Indian Education Programs, the "Life-Skills for Success-Financial Management 101" curriculum will not be mandatory. Although tribes will be involved in its development, each school can choose whether or not to adopt it.

Similarly, the leadership academy will be a pilot project. If proven successful, schools can choose to bring it to their facilities.

The OIEP system currently includes 185 elementary and high schools and dormitories. Four boarding are located off the reservation.

A large number of the schools are managed by tribes and tribal school boards under self-determination contracts. An equally large number, mostly those on the Navajo Nation, remain under BIA control.

So far, the Bush administration's priority for the system has been construction of new schools, with millions of dollars requested and appropriated. Education funds are otherwise being flat-lined. Next year's budget seeks $79 million in cuts to school programs.

Relevant Documents:
Consultation Document for August Meetings (OIEP)

Relevant Links:
Office of Indian Education Programs, BIA -