Saturday, June 7, 2014

Secretary Arne Duncan Hits The Warrior Trail

I doubt most of those kids in the Two Eagle River gym knew who that guy really was, the one talking to them about the importance of finishing high school and doing some kind of postsecondary training or education. "Graduate," he told them. "There's nothing else." Then he coached them a little more, this time in dribbling and layup drills on the court. That's right: the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan schooled some kids from the Flathead Reservation today in a Nike basketball clinic just prior to the Salish Kootenai College commencement.

With Secretary Duncan was Bill Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education. Bill suited up and did some running and gunning too, though not as much coast-to-coast as any of the kids!

I met with Secretary Duncan briefly before he entered the gym. I shared with him some thoughts about education in our country and in my community. Actually I was concerned we wouldn't have much time to chat (which we didn't) so I wrote down some "notes from the field" and gave them to him with a feather from this blog.

To summarize, I shared four insights: the intense and intensifying concern our parents, teachers, and community members have over the testing going on in schools; a reminder of the importance of after-school and wraparound services, especially in Indian country; another reminder of how partnerships with tribes and communities need to precede initiatives and special projects in Indian schools; and my own special project, a request for a boost in training teachers more effectively in culturally responsive teaching  practices.

After the basketball clinic we attended the Salish Kootenai College graduation where Secretary Duncan gave the address. I was most impressed with his very specific references to current events at the college (satellite launch) and on the reservation (Kerr Dam takeover), as well as his commentary on modern traditions as evidenced by the place-names signs in Salish and Kootenai. I was very, very impressed by his correct pronunciation of almost every local word he used!

You may not like the Department of Education and you may oppose some of the things Mr. Duncan has supported or stands for. However, he's a member of the President's cabinet and as such could live up to every negative expectation if he were aloof or nonresponsive, and I found him to be quite the opposite. He was personable and mindful of what he said to the students and the graduates at SKC. I really hope he reads what I wrote, especially since it came from interested parties whom I consulted, and considers some of the ideas we presented.

The following pictures are pretty self-indulgent but I can't pass up the opportunity to share the fact that the Secretary took selfies with my kids. He has children the very same ages as mine so it seemed that he took a quick liking to them.

I don't think I can call today just another day on the Warrior Trail. Thanks, Secretary Duncan and your staff, Juan Perez from SKC, and Bill Mendoza for making today an extra special day on the Warrior Trail.

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