Lakota Country Times: Education Secretary hears from Pine Ridge

Education Secretary John King addresses Red Cloud assembly, Red Cloud president Fr,. George Winzenberg and Cecelia Fire Thunder on the right with Philomine Lakota and Robert Brave Heart on the left. Photo courtesy Willie White ./ Red Cloud Indian School

Education Secretary King visits Pine Ridge
By Tom Crash
Lakota Country Times Correspondent

PINE RIDGE/WOLF CREEK – Thursday May 12, John King, the Secretary of Education in the Obama administration cabinet, came to Pine Ridge Reservation to get a better idea of education on the reservation.

"I’m coming to listen to educators and especially to students," said King who started out as a teacher in Puerto Rico and Boston and along the way earned a bachelors degree from Harvard, a Masters degree from Columbia University Teacher’s College, a law degree from Yale and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

“Secretary King’s visit was really good, he took time to learn about Red Cloud, he really listened to the students, held a student forum with reservation students, Red Cloud, Crazy Horse and Wounded Knee district school,” said Walt Swan, Red Cloud superintendent, “ I felt he was a teacher first, he wants to improve education, his time is limited and he wants to make the best use of his time in office.”

King spent three hours at Red Cloud, 9am-12noon, listening to a school presentation then meeting with staff and students then at 2:30pm spent time at Wolf Creek School.

John King, Education Secretary, leads a round table discussion with students at Red Cloud during his visit. Photo courtesy Willie White / Red Cloud Indian School

“Sure I was surprised that the Secretary would come to Red Cloud but I was more surprised that I would have a chance to talk to him,” said Bob Pourier, a Red Cloud senior who earned the Gates and is heading to Yale this fall. “He wanted to know what our community was like and what it was like to go to Red Cloud. I also told him that yes there were some tough stories here on Pine Ridge but there were some real success stories as well, that I’m a student from the res going to Yale, that we’ve had students from here go get their doctorates and come back home to help.”

King’s background includes both his parents working in the New York school system. His mother passed away when he was eight and his father passed when he was 12. He bounced around for a while but credits some great teachers have helped him find his direction in life.

“What a positive role model, that’s what we are always looking for, our students need a strong family support system and a school system that challenges them as they prepare them for the next level,” said Swan. “We really want to thank Bill Mendoza and his staff who really helped us to prepare for Secretary King’s visit.”

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For Pourier, the senior had to make a choice. "I had been following Bernie Sanders for a while and I was really looking forward to seeing him but I couldn’t pass up Secretary King," he said. [Ed. Note: The Democratic presidential candidate also visited the reservation on May 12.]

"Through adversity he has shown what a commitment to education can do," Pourier added.

"I think that our top priority should be investing in our education," added Pourier, who is leaving right after graduation for his third summer in Washington, D.C., to work as an intern for the National Institute of Health as a research intern in neuro-cardiology.

His overall goal is to complete a doctorate in experimental psychology then return to the reservation to work on problems surrounding alcoholism, addiction and depression.

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