ERIC Identifier: ED260869
Publication Date: 1984-09-00
Author: Tippeconnic, John W., III
Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Public School Administration on Indian Reservations.
Among the most challenging responsibilities in education are those of
the school administrator on or near an Indian reservation. This digest will
identify some of the problems and issues experienced by such administrators and
suggest ways to deal with them.
WHAT SPECIAL CHALLENGES DOES A PUBLIC SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR OF AN INDIAN
As in any other location, the administrator of a reservation school is
expected to be knowledgeable in all areas of school management. The reservation
setting, however, along with community and tribal contact, can make expectations
different from those for administrators in other areas.
Some reservation communities are small, making the administrator highly
visible, a community leader who is never completely away from the job. Often the
administrator lives in a school compound, interacting with the same people on
and off the job. These communities are often isolated at great distances from
major urban areas. Isolation can mean that the administrator may have difficulty
in recruiting and hiring qualified teachers, counselors, and other professional
staff. It is difficult for an administrator to provide staff development
activities or degree programs when universities and resources are costly or
logistically difficult to arrange.
Other reservation communities are larger or perhaps located near urban areas.
This administrator faces the challenge of establishing and maintaining effective
communication and meaningful contact with a community of which he is not an
inhabitant. The danger of community rejection may be heightened under these
The administrator is expected to know how the federal government impacts on
all aspects of public education. It is especially important that the
administrator understand the various federal policies, legislation, and programs
that provide funding to Indian students.
Also, the administrator is expected to know tribal educational policy and
practice and how it influences public school education. The administrator is
then expected to blend federal government and tribal expectations with state
If the local community and tribe support bilingual and bicultural education,
then one of the educational challenges of an administrator is to integrate the
local tribal language and culture into the regular curriculum of the school.
Relevant curriculum materials and teaching methods must be identified or
The administrator often serves as the link between the school, the community,
and the tribe. This role is especially difficult and delicate; it requires
political as well as human relations skills. Conflict can be destructive.
Resolving such conflict often demands decisions which are politically or
culturally based and which may seem to be illogical.
Achieving effectiveness in school administration under these circumstances
may depend on the background and ethnicity of the administrator. It can make a
difference whether the individual is an Indian or non-Indian; if Indian, the
administrator's tribal affiliation may affect his ability to perform
successfully. Cultural factors and local expectations can make it difficult for
a local person to be an effective administrator.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAJOR ISSUES AND PROBLEMS?
The major issues and problems facing public school administrators on the
Indian reservations encompass educational standards, funding, public relations,
staffing, and student attendance as well as a number of other areas.
Providing high-quality education while complying with state, federal and
tribal standards becomes increasingly difficult under conditions of limited
population that may be bilingual and bicultural. It is critical for the
administrator to know how to integrate supplemental programs such as the Title
IV Indian Education Act and the Title VII Bilingual Education Act into the
regular school program. Reservation public schools are often faced wit high-cost
items combined with limited local tax resources. Obtaining school construction
monies is also especially difficult.
It is increasingly important to establish and sustain meaningful parent and
community involvement. In addition, good personal contact is needed to
understand student absenteeism and withdrawal or dropping out as well as the
individual personal and family situations which affect the student's school
The administrator must pay special attention to recruiting and retaining
quality staff members, particularly bilingual and bicultural teachers and
counselors. Isolation, salary, housing, social life, educational opportunities
for children, employment for spouse, and indifference to teaching Indian
students often lead to high employee turnover. A related aspect is the need to
make teachers, counselors, and other professional staff aware of the local
language and culture through inservice training.
HOW CAN PUBLIC SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS DEAL WITH THE ISSUES AND PROBLEMS?
One way an administrator can address issues and problems is to follow a
decision-making process that insures relevant information is identified and
obtained. The effect of the local Indian culture and tribal government on
education should be determined. Also, it is necessary to identify special
educational needs of Indian students that may affect decisions in all areas.
Once information is obtained, it should be analyzed from educational,
economic, political, and cultural perspectives. A brief explanation as to how
and why the decision was arrived at often proves worthwhile and may avoid
Keep in mind that Indian people are sensitive to the policy of
self-determination. An administrator may have to attend tribal community
meetings or tribal council sessions to gather information or to address issues.
Often it is helpful if the administrator is fluent in the tribal language.
WHAT SPECIAL RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE?
Contact with special programs or individuals within the school district
should be made. Often there are individuals who are knowledgeable about local
tribal history as well as cultural, community history. Indian education staff
are especially helpful in planning and implementing bilingual-bicultural
education, in meeting Indian students' needs, and in understanding related
federal programs. Members of the tribal council or an education department in
the tribal government can be valuable sources of input into the school
administrator's information bank.
Outside the school district and local community are other agencies and
institutions which can help. The state department of education may have an
Indian education component, unit, or resource person. Also, universities and
colleges often have Indian studies programs, Indian education programs,
bilingual-bicultural programs, or individual staff with knowledge and experience
in Indian education.
The federal government itself is a resource, especially the BIA or programs
administered by the Department of Education (ED) under the Title IV Indian
Education Act or the Title VII Bilingual Education Act.
National organizations, like the Council for Exceptional Children or the
National Education Association, have Indian components or Indian special
interest groups. Many of these organizations have annual conferences or local
meetings where special concerns are addressed. There are also state and national
Indian organizations that promote Indian education. Many states have Indian
education associations or groups addressing specific issues. The National Indian
Education Association, National Advisory Council on Indian Education, National
Indian Child Care Conference, and the American Indian Higher Education
Consortium are examples of national organizations that can serve as resources
There are publications and other information sources that can provide
research findings, descriptions of current practice, or history and cultural
information, all related to the Indian reservation or setting. "The Journal of
Indian Education" is published at Arizona State University, and materials from
the presses at the University of Oklahoma and the University of New Mexico are
also excellent sources of information.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools at New Mexico
State University and the Bilingual Clearinghouse in Rosslyn, Virginia are
examples of data and information sources that provide current information on the
practice of Indian education and bilingual education.
A sensitive commitment to the special needs of this educational environment,
establishment of community/tribal rapport, and knowledge and application of
information and guidance as well as funding resources will assist the public
school administrator in meeting the needs of the Indian reservation he or she
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Indian Policy Review Commission. REPORT ON INDIAN EDUCATION.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1976. ED 164 230.
Boloz, Sigmund A., and Carl G. Foster. "A Guide to Effective Leadership for
the Reservation Administrator." JOURNAL OF AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION, January,
Boloz, Sigmund A., and Judith Loganbill. DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE SCHOOL
BUDGET IN THE RESERVATION SCHOOL: PPBS AND THE SCHOOL PHILOSOPHY. Ganado, AZ:
Ganado Public Schools, 1983. ED 234 946.
California State Department of Education. AMERICAN INDIAN EDUCATION HANDBOOK.
Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Education, 1982.
Deloria, Vine, Jr. LEGISLATIVE ANALYSIS OF THE FEDERAL ROLE IN INDIAN
EDUCATION. Washington, DC: U.S. Office of Education, 1975.
Education Commission of the States. INDIAN EDUCATION: INVOLVEMENT OF FEDERAL,
STATE AND TRIBAL GOVERNMENTS. Report No. 135. Denver, CO: Education Commission
of the States, 1980.
Education Commission of the States. INDIAN EDUCATION: AN OVERVIEW OF STATE
LAWS AND POLICIES. Report No. 139. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the
Fuchs, E., and R. J. Havighurst. TO LIVE ON THIS EARTH: AMERICAN INDIAN
EDUCATION. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972.
National Education Association. AMERICAN INDIAN/ALASKAN NATIVE EDUCATION:
QUALITY IN THE CLASSROOM. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1983.
Rosenfelt, D. M. "Toward a More Coherent Policy for Funding Indian
Education." LAW AND CONTEMPORARY PROBLEMS (1976): 190-223.