Published July 3, 2016
WINDOW ROCK – For the first time in the history of the Navajo Nation, two BIE grant schools have lost their accreditation.
Navajo Nation Superintendent of Schools Tommy Lewis reported to the Navajo Nation Council’s Health, Education and Human Services Committee Monday that the AdvancEd Commission, the accrediting entity for schools on the Navajo Nation, had revoked the accreditation of both Rough Rock and Chilchinbeto community schools effective July 1, based on a recommendation from its investigating council.
Chilchinbeto, a K-8 school, and the K-8 portion of Rough Rock can continue to operate, Lewis said; elementary schools are not required to be accredited. However, the fate of Rough Rock High School is in question.
“This has never happened on Navajo before,” Lewis told the committee. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
Lewis suggested the school could be taken over by one of the accredited BIE high schools like Many Farms or Shonto Preparatory. In the alternative, the students could take online courses available from Brigham Young University, but Lewis felt that should be a last resort.
“Part of a high school education is to have extra-curricular activities and athletic programs,” he said. On the other hand, he noted, the Arizona Interscholastic Association requires its member schools to be accredited, so Rough Rock may not be able to have sports anyway.
Rough Rock’s administration has already set aside the $25,000 bond should it choose to appeal AdvancEd’s decision, but Lewis asked the committee to change Navajo Nation policy to allow the Department of Diné Education to assume the school “without due process.”
“If the school board remains in charge, I fear the school will not regain its accreditation,” Lewis stated.
Christopher Schneider, representing the Navajo Nation Department of Justice, red-flagged that idea, saying it would require a revision of Navajo Nation Code.
Council Delegate Nate Brown (Chilchinbeto/Dennehotso/Kayenta) said he wouldn’t hand the school over to DODE anyway.
He pointed out that DODE had control of Chilchinbeto school over the last two years while it lost its accreditation.
“So did DODE fail Chilchinbeto school?” asked Brown. “If DODE was involved, then now, if you assume other schools, how can we make that recommendation? … That is beyond me.”
Brown also questioned whether Lewis’s seat on the AdvancEd Council was a conflict of interest.
Lewis said DODE had done everything it could to save the school’s accreditation, but 10 years of mismanagement and two recalcitrant school board members sabotaged the new principal’s efforts until she was compelled to resign — which also didn’t help the accreditation process since a stable administration is one thing the council looks for.
As for serving on the AdvancEd Council, Lewis said he inherited the position from his predecessor, Andrew Tah.
Pauline Begay, president of the Navajo Nation Board of Education, said the board was trying to formulate a reaction to the revocations, possibly asking AdvancEd to reconsider its decision. Before the AdvancEd Council had formulated its recommendation, both the BOE and HEHS had written the council a letter in support of the schools keeping their accreditation.
The committee wondered if it should call a special meeting Wednesday, after the BOE had had a chance to meet, to discuss the board’s recommendation, but Council Delegate Dwight Witherspoon (Black Mesa/Forest Lake/Hard Rock/Piñon/Whippoorwill), himself an educator, cautioned the committee that trying to interfere with AdvancEd’s decision would be tantamount to “trying to influence a CPA who was doing an audit.”
The committee agreed to revisit the issue at its next regular meeting, July 11.
While appealing the revocation is a costly and usually a fruitless process, the elementary schools have the option of starting over to get their schools reaccredited, Lewis said.
Chilchinbeto Community School Principal Mary Rule confirmed her school will be doing just that.
“We’re already recruiting, school will start as usual and on July 5, the school will start the process of reinstating its accreditation,” Rule assured the Times. “I feel really good about the staff. They’re willing to work. Our school will get its accreditation back.”
No one answered the phone at Rough Rock Community School.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by the Navajo Times. Published with permission. All rights reserved.
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