Montana State University

Montana wins $1.2 million to improve Native American schools

August 21, 2006 -- By Tracy Ellig, MSU News Service

MSU education professors Joanne Erickson and Bill Ruff have designed a course to train aspiring school administrators wishing to work at schools on and near the state's Indian reservations. (MSU photo by Jay Thane.)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Bozeman - The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $1.2 million to a Montana program aimed at improving schools on and near the state's Indian reservations.

The money will be for the Indian Leadership Education and Development (I LEAD) Program, which is a joint project of Montana State University, Fort Peck Community College and the Poplar Public Schools.

"Our primary goal is to develop Native American teachers, and teachers wanting to work in Native American communities, into high-quality principals and school leaders," said Bill Ruff, MSU professor of education.

Ruff and MSU education professor Joanne Erickson have designed a course of study for aspiring school administrators that will help them deal with everything from budgeting, to hiring, to student discipline, to motivating staff and designing curricula while improving a schools' effectiveness as they learn. The first participants start in the spring of 2007. The program runs for three years.

"Native American schools in rural Montana are different, even from schools in Billings and Great Falls," Ruff said. "This program focuses on those differences in connecting leadership theory to practice. Because the lessons are based on real-world problems, the participants will be directly working to improve their school while going through the course."

Administrators and educators with experience working in Native American communities will act as mentors for program participants. University faculty will also provide ongoing support to participants. The program has openings for 40 aspiring school administrators.

"The training is vital for the success of Native American schools in Montana, which are faced with a two-fold challenge," Ruff said. "The schools are having a difficult time meeting state and federal mandates under the No Child Left Behind Act, and there is also a critical shortage of able and trained administrators to lead these schools."

There are 58 schools in Montana where more than 50 percent of the student population is Native American. Of those schools, 49 failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress in 2004, according to the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

Native American students constitute 75 percent of Montana's total junior high dropout rate, with a high school drop out rate three times that of white students in Montana, according to OPI data.

"One of the reasons we were awarded this grant is the Department of Education recognizes that high-quality leadership is critical to student success," Erickson said. "Our program aims to create successful leaders."

Most of the schools with high Native American student populations are in rural areas, where professional development training for teachers and administrators can be difficult to access.

"This is a significant and positive step to promote quality leadership in Native American schools," said Ivan Small, superintendent of the Poplar School District. "I have people lined up already wanting to participate."

The training courses will be offered through MSU at Fort Peck Community College in Poplar. Aspiring school administrators should contact Bill Ruff (406) 994-4182 or

Contact: Bill Ruff (406) 994-4182 or; Joanne Erickson, (406) 994-2290 or; James Shanley (406) 768-5551 or; Ivan Small (406) 768-3409 or