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Money to help district's American Indian students

Rochester Public Schools is one step closer to deciding how about $45,000 in state funding will be used to help its 90 Native American students.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, the Rochester school board approved the creation of an American Indian Parent Advisory Committee to help with decisions.

Valerie Guimaraes, a parent who has been working with the district to bring it into compliance with state law and help allocate the funding, said she is ready to start planning with the district. The state outlined a number of possibilities for how the money can be used, including postsecondary preparation, making curriculum more culturally relevant and support for reading and math skills.

"My hope is that (American Indian students) … will see themselves more reflected in the school district," Guimaraes said. "What it's going to do is help misconceptions that are out there, how they see themselves and feel about themselves."

Guimaraes said there are still many misconceptions about Native American students and their culture, so creating a parent committee in Rochester will help parents influence how students are being taught and will help the staff better understand the culture.


A large part of the effort is also to help the district and parents monitor key metrics like graduation rates, Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores and ACT scores.

August ACT results showed Minnesota was again at the top nationally for states with more than 50 percent participation on the test, but white students have consistently outperformed students of color, creating a large achievement gap that the state needs to work to bridge, said Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, who was one of the legislation's primary authors.

Statewide, the American Indian four-year graduation rates is about 50 percent, up from 42 percent in 2011. By comparison, for white students statewide the four-year graduation rate is 86 percent.

"It's an embarrassment for the state of Minnesota to have one of the finest education systems in the United States and then to have not just kind of lousy achievement gap, but being dead last," Saxhaug said.

By 2011, Minnesota's Office of Indian Education department suffered from budget cuts, and American Indian graduation rates were at about 42 percent, the Post-Bulletin reported in June.

The new aid formula "... creates greater continuity of Indian Education programming statewide, and allows newly-eligible districts access to appropriate funding to design, develop, and provide Indian Education programming for the first time," according to MDE's website.

About 138 districts, charters and Bureau of Indian Education-funded tribal contract schools will receive funding on a per-pupil basis through the Indian Education Formula Aid program passed this year, which eliminated a more competitive grant process. District funding will be based on an annual head count of the number of American Indian students.

Over the next few months the district will work with the Minnesota Department of Education, parents and newly hired Alfolabi Runsewe, a special assignment principal who will focus on culturally responsive teaching and learning, said Assistant Principal Brenda Lewis.


The funding for the district averages out to about $500 per student for the school year. Saxhaug said he thinks this amount of money will be effective in closing the achievement gap.

"And if we find it is successful, there'll probably be more where that came from," Saxhaug said.

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