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Ducey

Dear Governor Ducey,

Good news from Flagstaff and Yale! The Diné Institute at NAU has been officially selected to partner with the Yale National Institute, which pairs a university with a nearby public school district. The teachers, called Teacher Fellows, take seminars from university faculty. The Teacher Fellows have the opportunity to develop a unit of curriculum from these deep-diving seminars, and the university faculty have a chance to develop new pedagogical strategies by working alongside the Teacher Fellows. I love collaborative projects. This one is a great model for how universities can work with local schools to bridge the town and gown divide. But better yet, to me it underscores the professional nature of teaching and how learning and developing curriculum is a lifelong project for both teachers and professors.

The Institute at NAU hopes to expand into other school districts including Hopi, Fort Mojave and FUSD. We are in the process of coming up with an umbrella name. I like Southwest Institute for Native-serving Educators (SINE). The math people also like this. It was exciting to hear we may expand into southern Utah. San Juan County has made strides in voting for Native American city council members after hundreds of years of being shut out. It would be great if the Institute could reach into Utah. I’m from Utah. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Horsen, was Navajo. Utah is named after the Ute tribe and yet Utah is just beginning to celebrate its non-Mormon past. Inviting Native-serving teachers from Utah to be part of the Institute makes me proud to be a part of it.

Sometimes, I’m proud to be from Utah. Governor Herbert just asked the White House to allow more refugees into Utah, to offer more people asylum. Although Utahns, too, spend fewer dollars than most states on education, they’re not at the very bottom like Arizona. There’s a sense of community in Utah that is not always inclusive but has, at moments, succeeding in being. I joke that the only place with a more conservative legislature than Arizona is Utah, but the way they work is pretty similar. Utah’s a bit more patronizing: We know what’s best for you. For example, when the ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana passed, the Utah legislature said, “Oh, we don’t think you meant to vote for that. Marijuana is dangerous. Let us fix the bill for you to make sure you don’t actually have access to any of that demon weed.” The Arizona legislature is just plain corrupt. “Oh, I’m sorry. You added two spaces after the period in your ballot initiative to raise taxes. Sorry. All 250,000 of those signatures will have to go.”

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What’s fascinating to me lately has been the link between the two states. The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that Utah authorities arrested Maricopa County Assessor Paul Peterson.  Peterson allegedly ran an illegal adoption scheme, smuggling pregnant women from the Marshall Islands into Utah and forcing them to give their babies up for adoption. Birth for hire. Very Utah.

Then, more to the point of your governing projects, dear Ducey, is the news that Glenn Way made $43 million on his charter school “system.” The Arizona Republic reported that in 2008, right after the recession, as the state moved money from public schools to charters, it would be a good time to move the American Leadership Academy from Spanish Fork, Utah, to multiple locations in Phoenix’s East Valley. Way worked as the developer for the charters, leasing the schools the land and selling them the buildings, allowing him to make $37 million from land sales and construction. Way then collected an additional $6 million to operate the schools. What seeds he’d planted in Utah and made bloom as big as a saguaro flower.

The paternalism that pervades Utah seeps into the upper basin water that hydrates Phoenix. As does the idea that in the Wild West, they who can get away with tax evasion or baby selling should get away with it. But thank goodness Utah authorities put a stop to that pervasion with their watchful eyes. Maybe they should start something that looks like collaboration and cooperation across the states, sharing concern for not individual cowboys but something bigger—like the whole Southwest.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit www.nikwalk.blogspot.com.

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