I had the pleasure this week of welcoming National Indian Education Association members to Oklahoma City for the association’s 43rd annual conference.

I had the pleasure this week of welcoming National Indian Education Association members to Oklahoma City for the association’s 43rd annual conference.

It was great that the conference was in Oklahoma. Our state is an epicenter of Native American culture and tradition. 

With 130,000 students, Oklahoma has the largest Native American student population in the nation, and we offer the largest number of Indian education programs. 

Oklahoma Native American students have achieved encouraging academic results the past few years. These students have scored above national averages for their peer group on tests such as the ACT, the SAT and in Advanced Placement coursework and examinations. The most recent National Indian Education Study shows that for the 2011 administration of the National Asessment of Educational Progress, Oklahoma’s Native American students in fourth and eighth-grade scored at or near the top of their peer groups and above the national average for their peer group in reading and math. While score gaps remain, this trend is truly encouraging and shows that many of the strategies utilized to improve performance are successful.

At the conference this week, we learned that Oklahoma is the recipient of a $2 million step grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The Chickasaw Nation in partnership with the Cheyenne Arapaho tribe and the Oklahoma State Department of Education were among four recipients of this grant. The funds from the grant will help us administer federal programs to Native American students in the state.

Also at this week’s conference, I had the opportunity to make an exciting announcement about a new initiative from the Oklahoma State Department Of Education called the School Partner Data Tool.

The School Partner Data Tool will link school sites from across Oklahoma with community resources, programs, interventions and supports. I am committed to supporting local partnerships with a real-time data exchange that links local schools, districts, parents and community organizations – including our state's Indian Tribes.

We know that bringing together all of those invested in the success of our students, with a common purpose and a coordinated approach will result in better student outcomes for all students.

The Native American tribes in Oklahoma are an ideal community partner. In fact, the idea for this tool came from the Choctaw Nation, an Indian tribe that is on the cutting edge of community and school engagement.

The State Department of Education is working with the Choctaw Nation to launch a pilot implementation of the School Partner Data Tool with the 88 school districts in the Nation’s jurisdiction.

After this pilot year, our agency will make the School Partner Data Tool available to any tribe or community organization partnering with our schools. We believe this necessitates real engagement between the school and the community to provide support to students and parents.

We are setting up the policies and procedures needed to implement the School Partner Data Tool to do two things. First, to engage in meaningful discussions among all stakeholders about how best to provide needed supports to their students. Second, to protect student privacy and protect confidential information.

I want to thank Joy Culbreath, Executive Director of Education at the Choctaw Nation; Chief Gregory E. Pyle, of the Choctaw Nation; the Tribal Council and the districts in the Choctaw jurisdiction; as well as the representatives of the Chickasaw and Cherokee Nations for giving us feedback during the development of this project.

My vision is that every tribe in Oklahoma and the schools within their jurisdictions will take advantage of this tool. This is a big win for Oklahoma and a model for implementing all of our reforms.