BIG CYPRESS — A new era has begun at the Ahfachkee School.
The Tribe’s leadership recently selected Lucy Dafoe as the Tribal school’s principal, marking a fresh start to the 2011-2012 academic year.
Ever since Dafoe began her duties in the Ahfachkee School’s top position on July 11, she said she’s felt very happy with the experience thus far.
Dafoe, who previously served as a principal in the Chief Leschi Schools system from 2003-2010 in Puyallup, Wash., said her first tour of the Tribal school’s campus got her excited about becoming Ahfachkee’s newest principal.
“It just felt right to be here,” Dafoe said.
Dafoe talked about retention as one of her primary goals to accomplish as Ahfachkee’s new principal.
“The position I filled prior to this was a high turnover one and had an unstable staff, so it was just high turnover all the time,” she said. “Stabilizing a staff is one of the first steps you want to take in school reform and improvement. Even though I heard there had been high turnover with administrators, I was still OK with it because for some reason, it felt right to be here.”
Dafoe, who had extensive teaching and administrative experience with students and staff from the Washington-based Makah and Puyallup Indian Reservations over a period of 17 years (1993-2010), said she would like to see all of the Ahfachkee School’s students reading on grade level.
“Effective schools have a common vision, so we need to have a plan to bring our kids there,” Dafoe said. “We need to execute on the proper steps necessary to bring them to grade level. It won’t happen in just one year. It’s going to take some time to reach the goal.”
Dafoe, a Native American from the Pauquachin Tribe of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, said rather than making sweeping changes right away, she would focus on minor changes and improvements for her first year at the helm.
“With our reading program, we opened up flexible grouping,” Dafoe said. “If I have a third-grader reading at fourth-grade level, that’s great. If I have a third-grader reading at second-grade level and they need more attention, let’s put them in a slower-paced group. Kids at their grade level, we’re going to have a reading group for them.”
Progress monitoring, Dafoe said, will help track how the teachers and students make continuous improvements in a variety of academic subjects.
“Sometimes, teachers teach eloquently on subjects they like and they spend too long on that,” Dafoe said. “There are some areas that don’t need as much attention as others, so with our data analysis, we got to see where we are at in our academic subjects and our tests over the summer.”
Dafoe also said she has implemented an open-door policy, a move she feels will make the school experience more comfortable for all involved.
“I want to be able to sit down and talk with the parents,” Dafoe said. “We have a common goal, which is for a kid to graduate from school. We might have different approaches to getting there, but I want to work with the parents to stay current with their kids’ progress. Parents want to know that, so we’ve encourage them to view a student portal we have here at the school, which tracks their kids’ attendance and grades.”
One thing Dafoe has noticed is that there are Tribal youngsters from Big Cypress who go to a variety of public and private schools such as The Sagemont School, American Heritage School, Glades Day School (Belle Glade, Fla.), Hollywood Christian School, Clewiston Middle School and Clewiston High School, among others.
“When I see buses going to the different schools every morning, I get hungry to see what we can do to get those kids to become students here at the Ahfachkee School,” Dafoe said. “What is it that we need to do to get the kids back into the community? We need to be taking care of all our core subjects. We need to be expanding our electives. Can we offer vocational classes such as wood shop or auto shop? Can we offer weight training? Can we offer video and media productions? Can we offer culinary courses? We need to do whatever it takes to give those kids a desire to come to school here.”
Dafoe talked about the Ahfachkee Warriors athletic program and how far it has come over the past year.
“Why are athletics a part of any school system,” Dafoe asked herself. “It allows us to teach dedication, commitment, standards and teamwork. I’m excited to see where athletics can go, and we want to keep pulling from the student body to get bigger teams. We’ve just started a volleyball team; it’s a true teamwork sport. With all that said, athletics can get kids more connected to the school and it could improve our overall graduation rates here at the Ahfachkee School.”
In addition, Dafoe said she would like to see a homecoming, a prom and a music program at the Ahfachkee School someday.
Overall, Dafoe said she sees a bright future for the Ahfachkee School and its student body.
“I would like to see the school grow and expand,” Dafoe said. “I’m looking to improve our overall attendance, our academics and our morale across the board. I truly believe that our staff and students want to do a good job here. I’m excited for all of them because I see a lot of potential here.”