Lawrence school district’s Native American Student Services program is under-resourced, according to program’s coordinator
photo by: Matt Resnick/Journal-World
The Lawrence school district’s Native American Student Services (NASS) program — which offers everything from tutoring to cultural programs — is hampered by a shoestring budget and lacks a clear-cut departmental-vision, according to NASS Coordinator Kenny St. Pierre.
“What is your vision of NASS, as a department that has limited funding?” St. Pierre asked Lawrence school board members who were present during Monday night’s “Beyond the Boardroom” public input session at Pinckney Community Connections. The session was designed to solicit public input on issues considered pertinent to the district, and was attended by five of the seven school board members.
St. Pierre estimated that once the salaries for the department’s two staff members are paid, there’s only about $10,000 remaining to fund a department that currently has about 500 Native American students enrolled in it, according to the district’s website.
The program, which has served American Indian/Alaska Native students in the Lawrence school district since 1972, prioritizes academic support — such as tutors and peer mentors — as well as cultural programming.
Board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood, an enrolled member of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, told the Journal-World that she takes St. Pierre’s concerns seriously.
“It is a big concern,” she said. “Historically, our Native American population has been underserved across the board.”
Cadue-Blackwood said the the program was dealt “a blow” earlier this year when it failed to receive grant funding from the Spencer Foundation, a nonprofit that supports education research.
St. Pierre said that his salary, as well as NASS Administrative Assistant Coordinator Shayla Chickaway’s, accounts for “most” of the program’s budget, leaving around “$10,000 at most” in available operating funds.
“How are we going to be sustainable for our teachers and our students in Lawrence public schools?” St. Pierre asked. “It doesn’t seem that we can do our job effectively with limited funds.”
St. Pierre added that a primary issue centered on raising awareness of the program, which he described as being under-resourced. Board members Kelly Jones and Ronald “G.R.” Gordon-Ross lauded St. Pierre for his efforts to promote the program since assuming the lead role in September 2022. Gordon-Ross said he’d “absolutely be on board with investigating what we could do to try to help you continue on the path you’re already on.”
“The more you can do to help and support that population, I think it helps everybody,” he said.
Jones said that she has been impressed with St. Pierre’s outreach methods, which primarily entail social media posts and other electronic correspondence — and that she was also “blown away” by the overall trajectory of NASS over the past 15 months. The program’s most recent Facebook posting asks if “there are any NASS families out there willing to share how USD 497 can better serve or help NASS.” Melinda Marie Mitchell replied that the district “can do better” in terms of accepting grants for services, supplies (and) cultural activities for Native (American) students.” Shelby Tosse added that she’d like to see a better representation of Native American staff members in the district.
Despite St. Pierre’s assertions regarding the budgetary constraints, Jones said that she needed more specific examples of the program’s needs. Attendee Cameron Piercy, who said he was not expecting the topic to be broached, told St. Pierre that the program has been a “game-changer” for his son’s education. Piercy’s wife, Twila, said that prior to their son receiving NASS-related tutoring at West Middle School this year, he was failing three or four classes and “now he’s making A’s and B’s — and he is excited about it.”
“Investing in that program has the potential to have the equity impact that we want it to have for Native (American) students, specifically,” Jones said. “But it also impacts the larger school community.”