Chief Kitsap Academy now operated solely by Suquamish Tribe education department

The best part of the new school year for Chief Kitsap Academy and the Suquamish Tribe may have been getting something promised in 1855. "The best part of [the new year] was celebrating the fact that the Tribe gets to practice things that were promised to them in the treaty about 150 years ago," said Joe Davalos, superintendent of the Tribe's education department.

SUQUAMISH — The best part of the new school year for Chief Kitsap Academy and the Suquamish Tribe may have been getting something promised in 1855.

“The best part of [the new year] was celebrating the fact that the Tribe gets to practice things that were promised to them in the treaty about 150 years ago,” said Joe Davalos, superintendent of the Tribe’s education department.

The Suquamish Tribe now directly operates Chief Kitsap Academy, independent of the North Kitsap School District, under a compact with the state. The compact was signed in August, the first in Washington. Since then, the Lummi Nation and Muckleshoot Tribe have compacted with the state to operate their own schools.

The compact allows the Suquamish Tribe’s education department to be responsible for all operations of Chief Kitsap Academy. The Suquamish education department will receive state funding directly, instead of through the North Kitsap School District. Students enrolled in the academy will receive a diploma from Chief Kitsap Academy; previously, students received diplomas from North Kitsap School District.

The academy’s enrollment increased to 78 students in grades 6-12 this school year. There are seven full-time teachers.

The academy continues its partnership with Olympic College and University of Washington. Academic focus remains on Suquamish culture and language, academic preparation for high school graduation, and admittance to post-secondary education. The academy is working to create its own version of Running Start with Olympic College, Davalos said.

Becoming a compact school follows the signing of HB 1134, the Tribal Schools Compact Bill, on May 14, 2013. The bill allows Tribal schools to receive funding for students in the same way public school districts do. The North Kitsap School District, for example, receives more than $5,000 per full-time student.

Prior to the bill, the Tribe partnered with the North Kitsap School District in the operation of the school. Academy students graduated with a diploma from the district. Funding for students filtered through the school district. That structure, however, ignored Tribal sovereignty, or self-government, and directed funds for administration that could have been used for teaching and learning, according to the Legislature. Chief Kitsap Academy received about $147,000 in total funding from enrollment, Davalos said; the Tribal Council picked up the difference.

Now, the Tribe will receive money directly from the state, allowing the council to pay for things a levy would, Davalos said.

According to the Legislature, school funding “should honor Tribal sovereignty and reflect the government-to-government relationship between the state and the Tribes.” The bill also allows Tribal education departments to be eligible for other funding, such as special education and Impact Aid.

Schools identified as Tribal compact schools cannot limit admission except for age, grade level, and capacity. However, if capacity is limited to enroll all students who apply, the school may enroll Tribal members and siblings of already enrolled students first, according to the Legislature.

Tribes must apply for a compact with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The application process includes auditing. Under the State-Tribal education compact, schools operating under the authority of Tribal governments must still comply with federal and state requirements for testing and reporting. One of the biggest surprises for Chief Kitsap Academy staff was the amount of extra paperwork they had to pick up, Davalos said.

Though it is now a compact school, the goals stay the same. Those goals include teaching Suquamish history, culture and language, while improving graduation rates and reducing absentee rates among Native American students.

The academy enrolls middle and high school students. Originally, Davalos expected the academy to begin with middle school students. Instead, it began with high school students and expanded to include middle school grades.

“What became evident to me four years ago, is there were a lot of kids not finishing high school on time, or were so credit deficient they just weren’t going,” Davalos said.

After researching, Davalos found that if a freshman failed even one class, it would increase the student’s chance of not receiving a diploma.

The academy then expanded to include middle school students, to intervene and help students get back on or stay on track at an earlier age.

After three years, Davalos believes the academy has enrolled the last group of students that were credit deficient; the rest are at or above expectations, he said.

Davalos said enrollment will stay at the middle and high school levels for now.

Davalos said becoming a compact school wouldn’t have been as smooth of a process if it hadn’t been for the school already being established, and the relationships the Tribe and Chairman Leonard Forsman have developed.



Rules Tribal compact schools must follow include:

— Provide curriculum and conduct an educational program that satisfies state education requirements.

— Employ certificated instructional staff (schools may hire non-certificated staff in exceptional cases).

— Comply with employee record check requirements and mandatory termination and notification provisions.

— Comply with non-discrimination laws.

— Adhere to accounting principles and be subject to financial examinations and audits.

— Comply with legislation involving compact schools enacted after July 28, 2013.

— Cannot engage in sectarian practices in its educational program, admissions or employment policies or operations.

The bill that allows Tribes to operate their own education agency was introduced by state Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip. McCoy visited Chief Kitsap Academy prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year.

“This is a proud day,” McCoy said during his visit. “You are the first … We will learn from you.”