The American Indian Parent Advisory Committee (AIPAC) at Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) recently voted that the district is not on track with goals to support Native students and families. An AIPAC representative brought forward the committee’s concerns regarding staffing to support Native students and families, training staff receive in areas related to Native culture, and the committee’s future.

The committee also voted to raise objections last year – called a nonconcurrence vote – citing concerns about AIPAC not receiving data about areas such as student attendance, the district not requiring cultural competency training, and the district not hiring a cultural liaison who was Native American to help Native students and families. A number of AIPAC’s concerns this year echoed those it had last year, while some committee members acknowledged the district made progress in a few areas.

 AIPAC Co-Chair Patrick Boozhoo said at the School Board’s February 16 meeting that one concern the committee had was the district not allocating funding besides federal pandemic relief dollars to a liaison position. Currently, one of WAPS’ student success coaches, who support students and families more generally, also works with AIPAC as the committee’s liaison, and the district uses pandemic relief funds to cover the position’s costs. Boozhoo said there has been some progress made through the position, and AIPAC does not want that to end due to a lack of funding. The district is likely to spend the remaining federal funds this year and next year. O’Brien cited the position as an area of progress and said the district tried to hire someone who is Native American but was not successful. “It is absolutely important for us to try to recruit more educators of color and student success coaches of color to our district,” she said. “It has an enormous impact on our students of color, and all our students need to see more educators of color.” There will be a success coach opening, she said, and she would want to be able to have an educator of color, and that person, if Native American, would be a good fit for the AIPAC liaison, she said. “However, right now, as it stands, we wouldn’t be able to justify with our current funding constraints more than 0.2 [full-time equivalents] of a role for a Native American Indian liaison,” she said. She added, “We would love to have more resources to support the needs of all our students and community, but we need to work with what we have.”

The committee is also concerned about restrictions on the information to contact families that AIPAC members receive to help guide their support of Native families and students, Boozhoo said. AIPAC wants greater opportunities for engagement with families and students, he said, noting that the committee wants to get in touch with families, while the district said there are privacy concerns. “Culturally, with the AIPAC, we’re having a difficult time bringing in new parents. There’s a lot of parents that are hesitant to come in,” he said. The district is working to reach out to families, O’Brien said and recently got a few more committee members. WAPS Communications Coordinator John Casper said the district has faced challenges with recruiting families for other district groups, as well, as have other organizations in town.

“We do have data privacy that we need to protect as a district,” O’Brien said. “So that is one of the things that we’re making an effort to be as transparent as possible …”

Furthermore, AIPAC wants there to be required training for WAPS faculty related to Native culture, Boozhoo said in an interview. He added that there was some improvement this year, as the district recently had one such opportunity for staff. O’Brien said this training was an example of progress and noted that there will also be a Native American storyteller coming to the district for students and a Native American educator who teaches about topics such as food sovereignty and Native games. The district will continue to offer opportunities for teachers to learn more about Native studies, she said.

AIPAC also wants to review biannually with the district a rubric from the state that outlines the committee’s work and progress, Boozhoo said.

Additionally, the committee would like to receive feedback when Native students attend events, for instance, Boozhoo said, as students for the first time went on a visit to a local college, but AIPAC did not receive a report about their experiences. O’Brien said that for the recent staff training, there would be a survey, and AIPAC could review those results once names of survey takers are removed. Overall, sharing feedback is a good practice for the district to get into, she said.

With some committee members being expected to leave this year, Boozhoo said, due to other commitments or not having students in the schools any longer, AIPAC also wants more outreach to families to try to bring in new members and continue the committee.

School Board member Jim Schul said he was confused about the vote of nonconcurrence, as it seemed AIPAC was pleased with the district’s progress in the area of the student success coach, for instance.

Boozhoo reiterated that the specialty of the liaison wasn’t specifically in the area of being a Native liaison, but AIPAC agreed to the current position so there would be some more support for Native students.

Denzer said the district was limited somewhat by location in recruiting for the position.

“I personally am aware of the good work [the liaison] is doing on behalf of this population I’m a member of, so that’s what I’m warmed by,” Schul said. “As a board member, I want our staff to be advocating for our children, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Boozhoo reiterated that the work has been helpful, but the specific qualifications for a Native liaison are different than for a coach.

Denzer said she took exception to that, as she felt there were appropriate qualifications met for the current position.

Some schol leaders and committee members agreed that there has been some progress, while some acknowledged there is still room for improvement. School Board Chair Nancy Denzer said, “It’s different than last year,” School Board Chair Nancy Denzer said. At that time, she continued, “We were not making as good of progress as I think you [AIPAC members] feel we’ve made this year.”

“We want to keep our minds open, and we want to keep learning, and we want to keep a collaborative, reflective process going …” Director of Teaching and Learning Kristie O’Brien said of her response to the nonconcurrence vote.

“I think it’s been a little bit forward and a little bit back,” Boozhoo said in an interview.

“I do feel that they’ve made progress,” AIPAC Co-Chair Angela Boozhoo said in an interview. “I just don’t feel it is enough progress. There should be more happening. We’re at a point in time where I just feel like they know what needs to happen.”

The School Board unanimously voted to accept the nonconcurrence brought forward by AIPAC.

The School Board is expected to respond to AIPAC and vote on a written response.