Chilchinbeto school celebrates re-accreditation

CHILCHINBETO, Ariz.

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations,” reads a poster in the hall of Chilchinbeto Community School.

Woman looks through paperwork in binder.

Navajo Times | Cindy Yurth
Chilchinbeto Community School Principal Mary Rule shows some of the paperwork the school had to prepare for its re-accreditation and grant reauthorization last Thursday.

It might as well have been the school’s motto for this past year.

Last Thursday, the remote, rural school between Rough Rock and Kayenta, Arizona, celebrated getting its accreditation back and its grant from the Bureau of Indian Education reauthorized — just a year after losing its accreditation and having to cede control of the school to the Department of Diné Education.

“We have our school back,” proudly stated Principal Mary Rule.

It’s been a difficult road for sure. In April of 2016, after three consecutive accreditation reviews with adverse findings, it looked likely that accrediting agency AdvancEd would pull the school’s papers. The Department of Diné Education stepped in, as it is authorized to do at that point, relegating the school’s governing board to an advisory role and hiring a principal with a Ph.D. in hopes of turning the school around.

“There was no school improvement plan,” recalled Darrick Franklin, senior education specialist at the Department of Diné Education. “We couldn’t find a curriculum. The records were in boxes in a storage room. It was a huge mess.”

Turnover was so high few principals had lasted more than a year, and the school had dealt with its poor performance by firing the entire staff, leaving a complete void of institutional memory.

The school was also running a large deficit, if you believe DODE. The present administration says it was mostly on paper, due to the timing of the school’s BIE grant.

When told the school was probably going to lose its accreditation, the school board immediately blamed DODE (unfairly, according to Franklin, since things had been deteriorating for at least 15 years) and threatened to file a lawsuit to get back control.

“(Board Vice President) Phyllis (Hewey) and I traveled back and forth to Window Rock on our own money,” said Terlyn Sherlock, the board’s president. “We talked to DODE, the Navajo Board of Education, HEHS (the Health, Education and Human Services Committee of the Navajo Nation Council), even President (Russell) Begaye and Vice President (Jonathan) Nez, lobbying them to give us back our school.”

“We basically begged them,” admitted Hewey.

Whether it was the begging or the threat of a lawsuit, it worked. The Navajo Nation Board of Education gave control back to the board in May of 2016.

DODE urged the board to keep the interim principal in the interest of continuity but the board wanted to start fresh with its own hire, and anyway the principal, tired of butting heads with the board, resigned.

About that time, Mary Rule, a longtime educator and administrator who had recently retired from Navajo Mountain, was getting bored of retirement and looking into jobs on the rez.


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Categories: Education

About Author

Cindy Yurth

Cindy Yurth is the Tséyi’ Bureau reporter, covering the Central Agency of the Navajo Nation. Her other beats include agriculture and Arizona state politics. She holds a bachelor’s degree in technical journalism from Colorado State University with a cognate in geology. She has been in the news business since 1980 and with the Navajo Times since 2005, and is the author of “Exploring the Navajo Nation Chapter by Chapter.” She can be reached at editor@navajotimes.com.