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St. Germaine, Jonjack Report Charts New Direction for LCO School


Drs. Rick St. Germaine (left) and Roy Jonjak

A report by Rick St. Germaine and Roy Jonjak charts a new direction for the LCO Ojibwe School beginning this school year. Curriculum will be reorganized around four major themes: “high performance” academics, the Bill Sutton Model for Ojibwe language and culture, “Makizin Pathways” career readiness and advancement training for students and staff, and active student engagement in athletics and the co-curriculum.

At the August 11th General Membership Meeting, Jonjak provided an overview of how these initiatives can be accomplished despite funding cuts of approximately $500,000. “Even with a projected $5.99 million budget, LCO students will still benefit from expenditures of $26,388 per pupil, which is $10,000 higher than public schools around this region. This allows us to expand our programs in new and innovative ways while incorporating higher standards for success.”

These upgrades harken back to the original school design at the time of the student walkout in 1976 when St. Germaine and Jonjak were actively involved in launching the school. Many of those who participated in the walkout were in the audience, along with many educators, parents, and tribal members who have contributed directly to the success of the school ever since.

At the time, most parents indicated they wanted their students to be immersed in Ojibwe language and culture, but also to be successful academically so they could go on to college and earn a degree. Tribal Governing/School Board members indicated an extensive survey will be conducted to identify the current priorities of parents and why they choose one school over another for their children and grandchildren. At one time, LCO Ojibwe School had twice as many Native students as Hayward; now these percentages are reversed.

Chairman Mic Isham emphasized that LCO School must graduate students with the academic skills they need to succeed in college, and many do not. More than half of Hayward High School's Native students fail to graduate, and many LCO School students cannot make it into college with the academic skills they have as evidenced by lower than average ACT and SAT scores.

Jonjak recalled how the original school design at the time of the walkout emphasized the need for more Ojibwe teachers and staff. Professional development was built into the program and mandated for most staff working at the school. This program became known as the LCO Career Ladder Program, and it graduated 11 Native aides and support staff with bachelor's degrees: a 93% success rate. Those who completed the program served the LCO community well throughout their professional careers.

A word of caution was expressed by several at the meeting: should this approach be used again, future participants must be provided with sufficient compensation and day care to help them succeed without slipping into poverty. This was the position taken by the Tribal Governing Board at the time: staff were given the paid release time they needed to attend classes, along with a tribal van transport them. They were also granted contracts which are still unique: the support staff salary schedule like the teacher's schedule provides pay increases to all staff who earn college credits.

Jonjak indicated the new program will be called Makizin Pathways, and it supports professional development along several skilled- or semi-skilled pathways like construction trades, health care, human services, auto/diesel mechanics, etc., not just the educational pathway for future teachers.

At the General Membership Meeting, Jonjak provided an overview of how these initiatives. The new approach will have the same “teeth” as the old Career Ladder: to be hired and maintain a job, staff must commit to their own career advancement. Using rigorous assessments, administrators will evaluate all staff members, and future staffing decisions will be made on the basis of these evaluations.

The vision of Makizin Pathways is for Native people to attain the same level of academic and technical achievement as their White peers and be equally represented in the skilled/professional workforce.

The seeds for this approach can be seen in Project-Lead-the-Way Program taught by Tammy Moncel in the middle school where students participate in robotics' competitions around the US, then continue on to earn as many as 12 college credits while still in high school which can be applied to future degrees like Robotics and Manufacturing or Science, Technology, Engineering or Math fields where more than half of all future jobs will be generated across the US.

Dunwoody College of Technology and Saint Mary's University of Minnesota have agreed to partner with the LCO tribe to bring Makizin Pathways to LCO, and St. Germaine and Jonjak are facilitating this process. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota has been recognized by Forbes as “the best college in the nation for graduating minority students in STEM fields.” These partnerships are therefore seen as critical to improving the academic program at LCO Ojibwe School.

There is also renewed emphasis on Ojibwe language and culture. “When Bill Sutton was at the school, he always kept busy showing students how things were done, how Indian people learned and carried on the traditions,” Jonjak stated. For him, it was not about the money: he came to the school with only a “Green Thumb” stipend for tribal elders looking for ways to supplement their meager incomes. St. Germaine is now restructuring this experience in collaboration with Saint Mary's University of Minnesota to launch The Ojibwemowin Institute which will allow students, staff, and any tribal member to advance Ojibwe language skills at secondary and postsecondary levels through the LCO Ojibwe School curriculum. He will lead efforts to train staff and school leaders in the development of an effective language curriculum to international language standards which is fully accredited at both the K-12 and college levels.

The importance of athletics and the co-curriculum was also endorsed by Isham and other members of the Tribal Governing/School Board. A strong sports and co-curricular program keeps students involved in positive school and community activities and away from negative influences which can destroy their lives and harm others. Several members recalled traditional Indian games once taught at the school, and the importance of athletics for girls as well as boys with all the positive values such teamwork encourages. With school only a week away, St. Germaine and Jonjak have been authorized by the LCO School Board to serve as Transition Academic Improvement Co-Chairs for one year only, charged with responsibility for implementing these changes and orienting staff to the new rigor these changes will require.

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The Lac Courte Oreilles Forester functions as a forester for the management of the forest resources located on fee lands owned by the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians on the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation. The total area of responsibility encompasses all fee lands owned by the Tribe within the exterior boundaries of the Reservation.