The first tribe-operated school has opened on the Tule River Indian Reservation.

Towanits School opened its doors to kindergartners through third graders on Aug. 17.

The school is located in the Towanits Education Center. There is a staff of four — one teacher per grade.

Dr. Jerry Livesely, Education director for the tribe, said they have 37 children enrolled in the school.

According to Frances Hammond, there have been schools on the reservation before, but this is the first tribe-controlled school and the first elementary school on the reservation in decades.

Livesley said the school is following the findings of a 2013 White House report on Native American Youth that found tribes needed to become more involved in the operation of their children’s education.

Also, said Livesley, “Research has showed Native American children have needs that are not addressed in public schools.”

He said his research found Native American kids in Porterville and Burton schools were falling short of bringing the Tule River students up to proficient status according to the State assessment tests (STAR). In fact, he said, the majority of students in the Porterville District were falling short of being proficient.

The Towanits School is structured differently from a public school, he pointed out, with much more active engagement and hands on learning. Also, the goal is to keep classes small, less than 15 students.

Another goal is to make Native American children proficient in English, math and reading.

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