Lakota Immersion on hold at RCAS; District says teacher shortage is to blame

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The Rapid City Area School District is pushing back – for at least a year – its planned Lakota Immersion classes, because they can’t find qualified teachers.

The District made the announcement last Thursday.

Screenshot 2022 08 16 082250

An email from Interim Superintendent/CEO Nicole Swigart, sent to everyone in the District on Thursday, August 11.

“In June, when I came on board, we had no certified…State-certified, qualified candidates,” said Nicole Swigart, the RCAS Interim Superintendent/CEO.

Swigart says the PAC was notified in June that the District was “very concerned about finding staff members,” and that the July deadline was set together.

“Qualified” means they have both a K-thru-5 Teaching Certificate and a Lakota Language and Culture Certification.

“When the email came out and the communication about the Lakota Immersion closing, of course, my first thought was they don’t value Lakota language [or] culture,” said Dr. Valeriah Big Eagle, who serves on the RCAS Parent Advisory Committee (PAC).

That reaction was shared among parents whose children first piloted the Lakota Immersion Program in the Rapid City Area School District.

Dr. Big Eagle’s own son participated in the pilot program last year. She says the District should be more flexible to meet the needs of Indigenous students.

“Western modalities of teaching and learning aren’t necessarily aligned with Lakota Indigenous methodology, right? So our elders’ experience and knowledge, that is sort of a degree in itself, you know? Right now what it looks like is that they just gave up, and that’s how it feels,” she said.

Swigart says no qualified candidates applied and showed up for an interview by the end-of-July deadline. Big Eagle disagrees, saying a qualified candidate from Rosebud did apply, but the District “failed to communicate.”

Privacy policies prevent the District from discussing individual candidates, however, Swigart said that any candidates that might have come forward after the deadline couldn’t be considered, as the decision was already made and families notified.

Big Eagle asks why the District couldn’t provide waivers to those interested in teaching the same way they do for other subjects.

Swigart says the Lakota Immersion Program is partially funded with federal ESSER money, meaning the requirements for teachers are more stringent.

RCAS called each family in the program to notify them of the closure. The PAC also pushed the District into making a formal, public announcement – something Big Eagle says needed to be done in the name of transparency.

“I am dedicated to being transparent and getting that information out there,” Swigart said. “I own the fact that we didn’t do it immediately.”

Swigart says it’s the hardest decision she’s made in more than 30 years of teaching.

“I did not want to shut it,” Swigart said. “I want to do everything that I can this year to make sure that it opens with multiple grades next year. I can only do so much.”

RCAS says the program isn’t closing permanently, and that they’re working with colleges and other programs to recruit qualified teachers. Swigart says they’ll be working through the Title VII Indian Education Office, as well as Human Resources, to expand their connections and have a long-term hire to provide stability to the program. She says they’re competing for educators with not only other schools and other states, but other professions as well.

“As a certified, accredited school district, I have to follow the State guidelines that are given to us,” Swigart said. “At this point – the last Friday in July – we could not fill that requirement to the State, and we had to make that call.”

Until then, students must return to their old schools, and Indigenous families are left waiting.

“I’m just so upset about it,” Big Eagle said. “Let’s just say the school district just needs to do a better job, because if it’s going to be like this, they don’t deserve our children.”

Dr. Big Eagle encourages anyone who wants to speak about the Lakota Immersion Program to attend Tuesday night’s School Board Meeting. That meeting is in City Council Chambers at 5:30 p.m. Closure of the Lakota Immersion Program is Item 8-M on the agenda.

Swigart says other programs are suffering cutbacks as well due to teacher shortages, including the Career and Technical Education program. RCAS has more than a hundred open positions listed on their website as of the time of writing.

We’ll have more on RCAS’s teacher shortages later this week on NewsCenter1.

Categories: ConnectCenter1-Culture and Art, Local News, South Dakota News