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Secretary's Column
By Tom Oster
Department of Education

Meet our new Indian education director

Earlier this year, LuAnn Werdel joined our staff as the state’s Indian education director. I have asked LuAnn share a bit about herself and her goals for Indian education in South Dakota.

Anpetu waste!

Dear Friends and Relatives,

I would like to take this time to introduce myself as the Indian Education Director for South Dakota. My name is LuAnn Pettie-Werdel and I am an enrolled tribal member of the Sisseton–Wahpeton Oyate. I am very pleased and honored to be in this position and take my responsibility as director very seriously.

In South Dakota we have some big challenges when it comes to American Indian education. We have a huge achievement gap between Native students and non-Native students in both the reading and math curricula areas. The graduation rate of our American Indian students enrolled in public schools is around 60 percent, and for our students who attend the Bureau of Indian Education schools, it is considerably lower. Average composite ACT scores for our Native American students are more than four points behind the state average for all students. In addition, we have an increasing number of teenage suicides occurring on our reservations in South Dakota.

The statistical picture for our American Indian students is grim to date. However, we have begun work to change this picture, but it will take time, effort and resources in the right hands to begin to correct some of these challenges. We have a pretty good idea of why our students fail - now we must focus on the solutions. Here in South Dakota, we have implemented a variety of strategies, programs and solutions to address these problems, including GEAR UP, I LEAD, the South Dakota College Access Challenge Grant, and the Core Concepts Planning Grant.

While these programs are excellent springboards for success, we must not become complacent. We have so much work to do. The lives of our children depend on the work we will be doing, now and in the future. "The most important responsibility of any society is to ensure the health, protection and education of its young children." (Indian Nations at Risk Task Force, 1991, p.33) We have to continue to improve and create opportunities for our students to experience success. With this in mind, I am presently working on a strategic plan to address these four goals:

1. Increase academic achievement
2. Recruit and retain highly qualified teachers
3. Integrate Lakota-Dakota-Nakota culture into the state standards
4. Develop a Web site that is first and foremost a resource center for all people in South Dakota

Thank you for taking the time to read this update. I look forward to hearing from you!

LuAnn Werdel, M.Ed.