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Interior officials 'impressed' with Tiospa Zina plans

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AGENCY VILLAGE, S.D. - Interior Secretary Gale Norton reaffirmed the Bush administration's commitment to funding tribal educational facilities during a visit to the Lake Transverse reservation.

Norton toured Tiospa Zina Tribal School July 16 as part of the school's 20th anniversary and a small celebration ceremony recognizing the start of work on the second phase of construction at its new campus.

American Indian education is among the highest priorities for the BIA, Norton said, adding its commitment includes improving facilities at American Indian schools.

Norton, who has visited a number of tribal school facilities under construction across the nation, said she chose the Tiospa Zina Tribal School as one of the sites because she was able to walk through existing educational facilities and see the development of new facilities.

"President Bush and I are committed to providing all BIA students with healthy and safe schools.

"For far too long, Indian children have been left behind. This budget request shows the Bush administration's dedication to creating environments where the minds, spirits and aspirations of thousands of Native American children may flourish."

Norton said her school visits bring her a broader understanding of the needs for the repair and replacement of schools in Indian country. It is much different seeing the facilities and those being constructed than just seeing numbers on budget requests, she said.

"We need to focus on the human side. I'm inspired by the parents' involvement with Tiospa Zina."

This tribal school serves as a model for schools across the nation because of the involvement of tribal parents working to incorporate tribal culture as a part of education.

Norton said she was impressed by the work of a handful of parents, tribal leaders and students who worked to make their dream of a culturally appropriate school a reality.

"We have 50,000 kids in Indian schools and we want to see them get excellent education."

Norton toured facilities in Agency Village that date back to the mid-1980s including surplus, modular buildings added when the staff and administration ran out of space. The school, which opened with just a dozen students in 1981, now serves more than 500 students.

All of the original buildings were constructed with tribal resources including $180,000 for the original building that houses the elementary classrooms. Later, $450,000 in tribal resources was committed for the middle and secondary school rooms, kitchen, and cafeteria, Superintendent Roger Bordeaux said.

As the school grew, four modular classrooms were brought to the campus in 1988 and four more buildings were constructed by Tiospa Zina Tribal School trades students.

The tribe borrowed $2 million to construct the new gymnasium which was completed two years ago. The facility under construction this summer will house kindergarten through grade five classrooms, cafeteria, kitchen, service area and administrative offices.

Congress appropriated $362,000 for design and planning for the construction under way. An additional $6.7 million in federal funds is going into the project.

Tribal and school officials are working with South Dakota's congressional delegation to lobby for funding of phase three in the BIA fiscal year 2003 budget. That final phase will include a new middle school and high school classrooms at the new site.

Norton noted an additional $9.1 million more than 2001 spending was included in the BIA funding request for schools. The money includes the construction of six new schools and repairs for a backlog of maintenance at all the schools by 2006. New schools will be built in Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and North Dakota.

The BIA's 185 schools and dormitories have suffered for decades from neglect and disrepair, officials say. Facilities slated for replacement in FY 2002 are Polacca (Ariz.) Day School, Holbrook (Ariz.) Dormitory, Santa Fe (N.M.) Indian School, the Ojibwa Indian School in Belcourt, N.D., and the Paschal Sherman Indian School in Omak, Wash.

The department's $10 billion proposed budget for the 2002 fiscal year includes $292.5 million to operate the American Indian schools in 23 states serving 50,000 students.

Bill Mehojah, director of Indian Education for the BIA, examined the plans for the new facilities at the Tiospa Zina Tribal School and said he thought they were impressive.