By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Tuesday, Sept. 8 meeting of the Cherokee Central Schools (CCS) Board of Education was called to order at 4:45 p.m. with Vice Chair Ike Long; Secretary Tara Reed-Cooper; Board members Gloria Griffin, Karen French-Browning, and Regina Ledford Rosario; School Board Assistant Sunnie Clapsaddle; HR Director Heather Driver; Superintendent Michael Murray; and Wolftown Tribal Council representative Chelsea Saunooke present. Chairperson Jennifer Thompson was absent. Assistant Superintendent Beverly Payne was on vacation.
The minutes from the past meeting and email poll were approved and Superintendent Murray led a prayer.
The meeting opened with welcoming Heath Robertson, a history teacher at CCS, to speak to the Board. He was there to discuss a project he wishes to launch as part of his dissertation research.
“It’s for my dissertation. The whole purpose is to look at a decolonizing approach to teaching American history,” said Robertson.
“I wanted to look at the impact of teaching our students American history, while also teaching Cherokee history. That’s what decolonizing is. It’s taking a different approach to the same thing. I didn’t want to take a very radical approach. A lot of people will associate decolonizing with critical race theory. That’s not what this is at all. This is using the indigenous theoretical framework. Which is using indigenous practice, indigenous belief in order to tell a story.”
Robertson says that he wishes to implement Cherokee history at every step of the curriculum. This is not currently part of the North Carolina Common Core curriculum that CCS has adopted. He said that it would not change too much when it came to the overall structure of his courses.
“Basically, it’s just to compare and contrast this year’s score to previous years’ scores, and just how students have retained the knowledge,” said Robertson. “It involves a pre-test and post-test. The post-test is just going to be the final. It’s the same final that I’ve given every year since we’ve not had the North Carolina State Final. What I’m doing differently this year is I’m going to have roughly half of the questions be Cherokee history related.”
Reed-Cooper asked for clarification on what is specifically taught in the basic U.S. history classes. “You stated that our kids aren’t getting the Cherokee history. Well we’re teaching that, correct? Is it being taught and they’re just not retaining it or is it just not being taught? It’s not specifically straight Cherokee culture it’s involved in other pieces of history?”
Robertson responded, “Based on what I’m seeing, and this has been the case definitely for the past eight years. When it comes to our history classes, my class has been the only one I know for sure where they’re getting an actual Cherokee history unit. This year, the difference is rather than doing a single Cherokee history unit, I’m doing Cherokee history alongside everything else.”
Suggestions were offered to Robertson, such as literary resources at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian or different community members to speak with. Robertson also provided more details about his process. He said that he has been speaking with members of the community for years to try and gather the truest Cherokee stories to add to his teachings.
“I agree with you,” said French-Browning. “I mean, I’ve got grandkids, they don’t know what it is to be Cherokee. They don’t even know they’re Cherokee until you tell them they’re Cherokee. They just think Indians is what they see on TV. So, I compliment you on what you’re doing.”
The Board spoke with Robertson for about half an hour, and they said they would allow him to implement these ideas into his course. They did request updates on the progress of the class. Robertson said there are still steps to be made, including discussions with Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed and other community leaders.
Following their guest, the Board move to briefly discuss the consent agenda. After some basic clarification on the resolutions, the agenda was passed with no amendments. It set forth the following items:
- Policy 4230, Communicable Diseases – Students be amended in the CCS Policy Manual.
- Kayla Smith is approved for an increase to Level 5 for school year 2020/2021.
- John D. Crowe is approved as a substitute teacher for Cherokee Elementary School.
- Jim Oocumma be approved as a volunteer for cross country for the 2020/2021 season.
- Josh Griffith be approved as the varsity boys basketball assistant coach for the 2020/2021 season.
- Johnnie “Nunnie” Davis be approved as the middle school boys basketball head coach for the 2020/2021 season.
- Josh Adams be approved as a full time woodcarving instructor for the Cherokee High School.
For the remainder of the meeting, the Board discussed the current situation of remote learning. They addressed questions and concerns from parents and teachers throughout the process. He said that it is important to listen to the teachers right now.
“Every new teacher you ever met will tell you, ‘that was the hardest year of my life'”, said Dr. Murray. “If they can get through that first year, they can make it. But the truth of the matter is all of your staff, right now, feel like they’re back in their first year of education. And they need some positive things said to them.”
He followed by stating that this was a chance to discuss the situation and that they would need to be ready for a final vote at the next meeting. He said that among the things to consider, they would need to have a finalized decision on a restart date, the method, strict policies, and a start date.
The Board is looking at the potential of coming back under the ‘Plan B’ protocol in October. That would include a 50 percent capacity at the school that is blended with remote learning. This plan would also include an option for parents to keep their kids at home under the remote-only model.
The Board is inviting Chief Sneed and EBCI Public Health and Human Services Secretary Vickie Bradley to the next meeting to get their opinion and information on the subject.
That next meeting of the CCS Board of Education is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 21 at 4:45 p.m. Meetings are currently being held in the school’s Cultural Arts Center to assist with social distancing.