Yupiit School District, House Education Committee testimony, Alaska State Legislature

On Monday, February 28 Superintendent Howard Diamond of the Yupiit School District gave a presentation to the House Education Committee on his district. 

After his presentation, Rep. Bob Herron (not on the committee but invited by the chairman to participate) said the Yupiit School District is in his district. Last December they had a meeting with Attorney General Dan Sullivan, DEED Commissioner Larry LeDoux, himself, Sen. Hoffman, and a few others to talk about the state intervention.  Rep. Herron asked about the status of the intervention and said he and Sen. Hoffman are very concerned about the attitude from DEED.  Since Alaska now has a new attorney general and DEED commissioner has there been a loss of continuity in the dialogue with the state of Alaska, or any changes?

Superintendent Diamond said.....
.....they’ve assembled a dedicated administrative team with a lot of experience working in rural Alaska. They would like a seat at the table when decisions are made for their school district. They met with Commissioner Hanley once already, will meet with him again next week, and have invited him to their district. They have a content support team who are competent educators and good people, but they are there for only a few days a month. It’s a model that could be improved on. It’s caused some confusion among teaching staff and the administration. It’s hard for those people to become team members. The district wants a model where the content specialists are located in the district. But they would need additional housing for that. He said the district feels like they have something to say, and would like to be at the table when decisions are made.

Rep. Herron asked Superintendent Diamond if the district and DEED are moving forward with the intervention, or are they just treading water because of the change in leadership.  Superintendent Diamond said he thinks they are in the same place; Commissioner Hanley just got on board, and there isn’t any change yet in the state’s focus. The current model used by the state for the past four-and-a-half years has proven to be ineffective, but the state is continuing to use the same model. They are going tell the commissioner next week about a model that they think will be more effective for their district.

Dr. Kim Langton, Yupiit assistant superintendent, said they’d like to have a model everyone can buy into. They hear from the state a lot about whether the district is cooperating, but cooperation goes both ways. He recommended the model and the process used by the Chugach School District. In that model, everyone buys into the process, and there is community, staff, teacher, student, and parent involvement. That’s what they’d like, rather than a top-down approach.

Rep. Seaton asked what prevents Yupiit School District from developing its own improvement model, like Chugach School District did. Dr. Langton said he is referring more to the process of having everyone involved collaboratively, rather than having people dictating what Yupiit will do. There would be a lot more Yupiit culture and community involvement, research-based methods, and aligned curriculum if the process is collaborative. It would be owned by the local people, instead of being imposed upon them.

Commissioner Hanley was invited by the chairman to respond to testimony from the Yupiit School District. The commissioner said he said he was fortunate to meet with the Yupiit team. There are challenges involved. They are also involved with the Moore Case, which includes the Yupiit School District, and there are directions coming from Judge Gleason. He has no desire for the status quo. Students in Yupiit are struggling. He’s looking forward to Monday’s meeting with Superintendent Diamond. Commissioner Hanley said he agrees with the Yupiit School District that local control and local ownership is key. DEED is able to offer resources, but the power comes at the local level.

Rep. Herron said he looks forward to meeting with Commissioner Hanley. His constituents don’t call meetings on a whim to talk about their concerns – they felt it was a punitive atmosphere. He hopes that isn’t the intent of the administration. It doesn’t work in Akiachak, and it won’t work in other parts of the state.