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Navajo education board ousts superintendent 8-07

By FELICIA FONSECA
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP)
- The Navajo Nation board of education has
ousted its first superintendent of schools - a little more than a
year after he was selected for the job.

Board vice president Rebecca Benally said Tommy Lewis Jr. didn't have
the vision to implement a strategic plan for the Department of Dine
Education. The board voted 5-3 Monday to fire him.

“We felt that we made the decision in the best interest of Navajo
children and children in general who are being educated on the Navajo
Nation,” she said Wednesday.

Lewis was an at-will employee, meaning he could be fired at any time
for no reason. He was selected as the education chief last July - a
year after the tribal council amended its education law to establish
a state-like education department, a board and a superintendent.

Lewis, 54, said in a letter to board members that he was disappointed
by the decision and did not believe he had a fair chance. He
questioned how anyone could build an education department within a
year.

“It is not possible,” he said. “How could we gain the respect and
support of our counterparts if it is to be done without a well
thought-out plan?”

Benally said some board members felt that Lewis wasn't allotted
enough time, but others said he did not accomplish much in the time
he was given.

“Of course, anyone can justify an action, but if you have a plan in
front of you ... I don't see how you would not have a sense of
direction,” Benally said.

Lewis, the former president of Dine College and Northwest Indian
College in Bellingham, Wash., said he had gone out of his way to help
get the department off the ground, meeting with state and federal
officials to inform them of the Navajo Sovereignty in Education Act.

“I was able to gain much support from a lot of officials, parents,
tribal leaders, educators and other organization,” he said. “I did
so because I believe in the mission and cared about our children's
education.”

He accused the board of using personal vendettas and dirty politics
to get rid of him.

Benally said the decision was a professional one.

Deputy superintendent Eddie Biakeddy of Rock Springs will fill in as
superintendent while the board searches for a replacement. Benally
said that should take about two months.

“We have every confidence in the person we appointed, who has been
running the department anyway,” she said.

The tribal department has been working on its own set of education
standards that would incorporate culture and traditions, to develop a
teacher certification system and a way to track students.
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