FORT HALL — Shoshone-Bannock School District 537 is bolstering programs and reinventing operations at its junior high and high school, aiming to win over Native American students now enrolled in surrounding school districts.
The tribes have a revamped school board and a new superintendent and principal, who vow to strengthen core curriculum at Shoshone-Bannock Junior/Senior High School by next fall, with an emphasis on the trades and career and technical education.
The Tribes will partner with Idaho National Laboratory and Idaho State University to offer students the most current curriculum and high-tech laboratory equipment to teach lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Tribal leaders aim to create a “pipeline” of students who will be trained to fill a host of highly demanded jobs or to enter related college programs.
Spearheading the effort will be Jonathan Braack, the school’s principal and superintendent of Shoshone-Bannock School District 537. Braack, who rejoined the district in January, previously held the same positions before leaving to pursue other endeavors in September of 2018.
“Surrounding school districts have historically been providing more opportunities,” Braack said. “We’re putting ourselves back on the map and having some competitive offerings.”
Programming will cover areas such as carpentry, auto mechanics, welding, nursing health services, dental assistance and becoming an industrial mechanical technician.
Braack said the school plans to revamp its old trades facility and make it a modern career and technical education laboratory. INL will work with community colleges and state higher education programs to create curriculum and coursework for the laboratory.
Jennifer Jackson, who is the kindergarten through 12th grade STEM education manager at INL, said the Tribes and INL have a draft agreement and are still working out the details.
Battelle Energy Alliance, on behalf of INL, has already invested $75,000 in grants to the Shoshone-Bannock school for STEM programming in the current school year.
“We are working to develop education pathways into positions that are identified as positions that we’ve projected and economists and workforce development experts have projected will be high-need, STEM-related jobs for the future,” Jackson said, adding INL requires skilled and specialized workers.
Jackson said INL plans to bring STEM professionals and practitioners to the school to make presentations to students and to participate in career exploration panels. She said INL also hopes to bring students onto the site starting in the summer of 2022 to participate in hands-on, work-based learning with professionals.
She said INL has designated STEM ambassadors who are willing to mentor students, and six INL positions have been identified to be featured in a new virtual job shadowing program.
Also under the terms of the memorandum of understanding, INL will help the school become an official state-designated STEM school. The school plans to submit its application to commence working on the designation this summer.
The school also has a separate memorandum of agreement to partner on education with ISU, and three of its teachers will be certified prior to the start of the 2021-2022 school year to teach dual enrollment courses through ISU.
Gary Salazar, director of ISU Continuing Education and Workforce Training, will partner with the school, helping them offer a certified nursing assistants program and a fundamentals of dental assisting program. Two modular buildings on the campus formerly used as classrooms will be designated for the new nursing and dental programs.
“Right now, the only thing (our students) have to look forward to is working at the casino,” said Becki Ingawanup, the new school board chairperson. “We just wanted to offer them more opportunities — great opportunities of internships, highly paid jobs they’ll love and can support their families. It’s just a bright future.”
Ingawanup said the school will also be heightening its emphasis on courses in Native American language, culture and government to help preserve the Shoshone-Bannock heritage.
“Our culture, it’s just huge. It’s very important that we pass it on. A lot of our elders are dying,” Ingawanup said.
Ingawanup said the school flourished under Braack when he was here previously and she’s eager for the future. She’s confident the redesigned policies and programs will attract Native American students now attending other school districts.
“It’s more than a goal. It is a top priority to get our native students back,” she said. “They belong here. Their families live here. A lot of them live on the reservation.”
On Tuesday night, the school invited local families, leaders in Tribal government and other stakeholders to a meeting to discuss the attributes they would like to see in a successful school.
Braack said the new school board has the blessing of its Tribal government as it seeks to “raise the bar for the entire academic system.”
“Our kids are capable of anything we teach them. We need to make sure we have the bar raised high enough for them,” Braack said. “We have to have an academic system that challenges them.”
Braack was raised in Southern Missouri and first worked with Native Americans when he served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Montana, where he spent time on the Crow Indian Reservation.
He earned a degree in English teaching from Brigham Young University in Provo and started teaching English at Pocatello High School in 2006. While at PHS, he participated in an 18-month internship focused on becoming a vice principal. He then worked for three years as vice principal of Connor Academy, before becoming the superintendent of a school district within the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.
He led Shoshone-Bannock School District 537 from 2016 through 2018, before leaving to start a consulting LLC. Within the next month Braack will graduate from an online program through Northwest Nazarene University with an education specialist degree in superintendency. He plans to finish his doctorate through the university within the next couple of years.