Immersion School approved for charter school

BY TESINA JACKSON
Former Reporter
12/06/2011 08:02 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation linguist Anna Sixkiller, right, assists Cherokee Immersion student Hondo Kirk with a project at the school. ARCHIVE PHOTO
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Lauren Hummingbird prepares her laptop to practice her spelling of Cherokee words at the Cherokee Nation Immersion School in Tahlequah, Okla. The school recently was approved to become a charter school. TESINA JACKSON/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Earlier this year the Cherokee Nation Immersion School gained state approval to become a charter school, which would allow it to receive state funding.

CN Education Services officials said the school isn’t a chartered yet, but it should be soon.
“We’ve been leading up to this for quite some time, and we knew that we always wanted to be accredited and/or chartered. So we’ve been going through this process for a while,” said Corey Bunch, Education Services deputy group leader. “Now we’re going through the formal process.”

In June, Tribal Councilors approved Education Services to submit an application to the
Oklahoma Department of Education for charter school status for the 2011-12 school year.

Gaining charter status would include Sequoyah Schools’ seventh and eighth grades.

According to the state Department of Education’s website, charter schools are public schools established by contract with sponsors and can be exempt from many laws and regulations. They often promote a specific curriculum and learning style and are operated by parents, teachers and other interested community members.

Currently, the school functions primarily on tribal funds. Being chartered, the school could receive state funds, contingent upon a specific state formula and testing.

“The Cherokee Immersion School receives funding based upon the state formula that is calculated by student enrollment and student demographics,” Bunch said. “Since we are in the beginning stages of this process it would be difficult to pinpoint a figure. A more accurate calculation won’t be available until later this year.”

Bunch said CN officials are still working on processing minor details through the state.

“This being a little bit of a different situation for a charter school than what they were used to, it took some working with us and their accreditation folks on getting all of the paperwork lined out and just some minor things worked out with them,” he said.

Gaining state charter accreditation also makes the school open to non-Natives.

“A charter school is basically also a public school, so kids are welcome to apply at any time. But here’s the tricky thing with our school, they’re going to be placed in an age and Cherokee equivalent level for them,” Bunch said. “So it depends on where they’re at with their own language.”

The CN was able to have the Immersion School apply to become a chartered public school under the amended Oklahoma Charter School Act, which allows tribes to sponsor language-immersion charter schools if the proposed school is within the sponsor’s reservation or traditional treaty boundaries. Becoming chartered allows the school to become eligible for grants, including federally funded monies.

“We can focus on an area that our students, parents and school community, would like to focus on, that being the Cherokee language and we can provide as many resources to help our students become successful while using the Cherokee language in that setting,” Bunch said. “Charter schools are formed for a specific need or purpose and ours happens to be the Cherokee language and history and culture. Charter schools are established out of need and our need here and focus is the Cherokee language.”

Bunch said he doesn’t see any drawbacks or disadvantages in becoming a charter school.
“Some might consider the checklist of items to reach school accreditation to be a drawback, but we see it as an opportunity to push ourselves professionally to an even greater standard.”

tesina-jackson@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000, ext. 6139

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