By Jonathan Butcher
At an award ceremony earlier this year, Akimel O’Otham Pee Posh charter school became the first Native American school to be named the Arizona Distinguished Title I School of the Year. The school is now entered in the National Title I Association’s national competition, which recognizes schools that are doing the best job of helping kids in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the country.
“Our children did it,” says Principal Jacquelyn Power, who also serves as the superintendent for the small district located on the Gila River Indian Reservation. The reservation is home to the Akimel O’Otham (River People – Pima Indians) tribe and the Pee Posh tribe (Maricopa Indians). “We performed as well or higher than the children around [us] in public or charter schools. We did it with a strong focus on achievement and consistency and excellence, and our kids did it,” Power says.
Gov. Gregory Mendoza of the Gila River Indian Community declared February 3, 2012 as ‘Blackwater Community School Day,’ in recognition of the school’s accomplishment.
Powers says the fact that Pee Posh is a charter school is significant to its success. While the kindergarten through second grades are a Bureau of Indian Affairs traditional school, grades three through five operate as a charter school. She says the charter status gave her access to grant opportunities and allowed her more flexibility to develop a strong instructional model.
Powers says the school has focused teaching efforts on reading. “If [students] can read, they can be successful in any other subject area,” she says. “We have high risk students, and by putting in a solid reading model, it changed our school.”
Some 94 percent of the school’s students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, yet last year Pee Posh earned a B on its first state report card. Among 3rd graders, 88 percent met the reading standard on the 2011 AIMS test.
Arizona’s state charter board and department of education should continue to support charter schools serving a wide range of students from different backgrounds. The diversity of charter schools in communities across the state provides more opportunities for children, and proves that success comes in different shapes and sizes.
Jonathan Butcher is the Education Director for the Goldwater Institute.
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Goldwater Institute: 18 Years of Charter Schools in Arizona: Now We Know
National Title I Association: Akimel O’Otham Pee Posh Charter 3-5