Salt River Schools, Scottsdale, Arizona
District State: Arizona
District Website: http://www.srpmic-ed.org
Challenge: Salt River Schools—a small system operating on a rural Native American reservation of 11,000 people—faced high turnover, including churning through four superintendents in four years and more than 10 principals in a decade. The instability created uncertainty and led to a decline in enrollment.
Initiative: Upon becoming superintendent in 2016, Louis Laffitte Jr. developed a five-year strategic plan focused on engagement, transparency and accountability. After reaching out to stakeholders for feedback, the plan emphasizes holistic cradle-to-career education for all members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Culture-focused and language electives have been added to the curriculum. Head Start students, for example, learn traditional storytelling and social-emotional dialogue, such as how to introduce themselves in the O’odham language (which is also now offered at the high school).
Impact: More than 250 students at the Early Childhood Education Center receive weekly O’odham and Piipaash culture instruction, while nearly two dozen high school students study O’odham to earn foreign language credits.
Advice: “While academic achievement is a worthy goal, building and embracing culture—both organizational culture and community culture—is integral to strategic success,” says Taté Walker, communications director.