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EDUCATION: New principal hired for Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School

BENA—Students returning to Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig Schools in the fall will be greeted by a new face. School administration announced at June's regular School Board meeting Thursday the K-12 principal vacancy has been filled.

Interim Superintendent Pam Walker, who is also the school's special education coordinator, confirmed the hiring of Amanda Norman. Norman, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, is scheduled to begin July 6.

The school is actively seeking a permanent superintendent. The School Board accepted the resignations of past superintendent Crystal Redgrave and principal Cheryl Poitra during May's school board meeting. Redgrave and Poitra submitted their resignations May 6, a day after a student protest.

Faculty and School Board members expressed concern Thursday about low enrollment numbers the past few years. During the 2007-2008 school year, the school had 334 students, this past year there were 188. Collectively, faculty and the School Board agreed recruitment efforts need to increase beyond Kindergarten Round-Up and Head Start visits to the school. The group plans to recruit at more public events and incorporate social media, such as the school's Facebook page (Bugonaygeshig Schools), in future efforts.

Social studies teacher Mike Schmidt said the inaccurate portrayal of the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in media could be hindering recruitment.

"There's a lot of information about the high school building falling apart," Schmidt said. "Those articles don't ever say that it's just the high school building and I think there's people who think the whole place is caving in."

The Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School has gained national attention when tribal leaders and school officials have testified in Washington about the need for more Bureau of Indian Education funding to repair conditions at the school including exposed wiring, lack of a proper communication system, roof leaks, rodents, uneven floors, poor lighting, sewer problems and lack of handicap access. The elementary school is structurally sound as is the Niigaane Ojibwe Immersion School located on the same grounds in Bena.

At Thursday's meeting, Schmidt also announced that 19-year-old Seneca Keezer, a 2015 graduate of the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig High School, was selected to be one of an anticipated 800 Native American youth to visit the White House for an inaugural Native youth event July 9.

"She's a little nervous, but she said she knows she can do it," Schmidt said.

The event, "Two Worlds, One Future: Defining Our Own Success," is part of President Barack Obama's Generation Indigenous initiative focused on improving the lives of Native youth. The event will be held at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel in Washington. Obama extended the invite to youth during the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering on April 25.

Schmidt said Keezer, a former student of his, showed initiative by applying for and being accepted to attend. Youth living on and off reservations between the ages of 14-24 were invited to apply. Keezer resides in Cass Lake.

A fundraiser is planned to be incorporated in the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe's July 4 Powwow in Cass Lake to help cover Keezer's expenses.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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