Suquamish Tribe outlines requests for NKSD at meeting

The North Kitsap School District held its government-to-government meeting with the Suquamish Tribal Council April 11, as the tribe shared its goals and expectations of the district moving forward.

Suquamish chairman Leonard Forsman touched on the importance of bringing more tribal curriculum into schools, such as its culture, language and value systems. NKSD board president Mike Desmond said the district is committed to improving the relationship and quality of education for tribal students and all students in general.

“Our priority remains our children,” tribal councilmember Josh Bagley said. “We will continue to advocate for a safe and exclusive quality learning environment, and this can only be achieved with an open and honest dialogue between the Suquamish Tribe and NKSD.”

The council had a list of requests for the board, which touched on topics such as timely and ongoing communications between both entities regarding significant changes that affect tribal members; tribal input on implementation of district services; explore methods to share and use tribal data to support student performance; tribal representation on district committees; address concerns regarding implicit bias toward tribal students; and adjusting the approach to state testing methods so tribal students feel confident, among other requests.

“We’ve learned that parents of indigenous students attending NKSD are seeking a higher level of support,” Cori Silvey said, tribal member and parent of an NKSD student. “Our students are also experiencing discrimination, alienation and consequences greater than the behavior. Not every indigenous student has these experiences, but some do, and some is too many. Please consider partnering with us towards making positive and necessary changes to increase and ensure student success.”

Regarding communication, tribal councilmember Jay Mills said in the past it has felt like Suquamish was dealing with the superintendent instead of the school board. Desmond said the board will continue leaning on the superintendent on policy as that is a professional educator’s position, whereas board members are volunteers.

Outgoing school boardmember Rick Eckert, who later resigned at the meeting to focus on his Poulsbo City Council role, suggested the tribe let the district know when it has cultural events it would like school representation at. He said sometimes it can be hard to know if events are exclusive to tribal members.

“Any of our public events you guys are invited to—Chief Seattle Days, Canoe Journey, any kind of that stuff,” Bagley said.

Another request from Suquamish was to have representation from both its tribe and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe on district committees.

“I’d like to get as many tribal members on our committees as possible,” Desmond said, adding the district would like to incorporate tribal artwork at some schools.

As for bias, concerns were raised about how some staff at Kingston Middle School treat some tribal students. The school board said it wasn’t aware of any reports or investigations regarding that.

“If a formal report is not made, it never really rises to our level,” Desmond said. “If there’s a way we can educate them or if they feel like there’s any barriers to them reporting or they don’t feel comfortable reporting anything, I’d like to try and eliminate that so we can get them through the process.”

NKSD interim superintendent Rachel Davenport said the district has received some training from the state Education Association to advise culturally responsive classrooms and how to intervene appropriately.

“I know it’s something that we are going to continue to work on,” she said.

School board member Stacey Mills, who is the tribal liaison, added: “What I was hearing from some of those parents was that concern of kids in the building maybe not feeling connected enough to be able to find those trusted people to do that. I think that’s going to go a long way in helping with those sorts of horrible things—issues that shouldn’t be happening to our kids at school.”

Regarding state testing, Silvey said some of the practices in the district are old, adding that the methods are the same ones she went through as an NKSD student.

“We’re confident there are other ways to test our students that truly reflect their academic success,” she said. “We know that testing four to six hours a day isn’t best practice for our kids. We know our children, and we know that when they’re coming home from those testings they feel that they didn’t do well. Leading up to testing they are feeling anxious.”

Silvey said the district should focus on prepping students for long days of testing and offer more support.

“We’re just asking you to explore some other ways to conduct testing so that when we see the data, it truly reflects the students you have attending the schools, especially ours,” she said.

To conclude the meeting, Desmond said: “We come here humbly. We’re not perfect but we’re dedicated to improving. Please work with us, and we’re ready to improve any way we can.”

Forsman added, “We have a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other.”