BATESLAND, S.D. (KOTA TV) The Oglala Lakota County School District has an ambitious plan. It wants to build a vocational-technical high school -- which would be the first ever public high school on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
With a majority of students dropping out of high school and serious economic headwinds facing those that do, district leaders say it's time to think outside of the box.
"Twenty-three percent of our eighth graders actually finish high school," said Oglala Lakota County School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Fairbanks. "So what about the other 77 percent? We've go to do some things differently."
And the thought is ... build job skills.
"We have four high schools on the reservation and they're all college prep, just like all the other schools, getting the (students) ready to go on to college," said School Board President Bryan Brewer. "But not all of our students go on to college and we're hoping to reach out to those students who are not."
The district estimates it would cost more than $20 million to build a new school that would teach skills such as agriculture, IT, hospitality and more. On Monday leaders convened a kickoff meeting for the plan with 30 community, education and business leaders at the district offices in Batesland. The idea was met with enthusiasm.
"Twenty-three percent of the kids graduating is just unacceptable anywhere in America," said James Scull of Scull Construction Services. "So, changes have to be made. We have to have a public awareness of this topic and we have to dig in and make this happen. This is part of our community here in South Dakota and we can't ignore it."
Added former Oglala Sioux Tribe President Cecelia Firethunder: "Today was really exciting for me. To be able to be part of moving ahead on a vision to give a lot of our students the opportunity to learn a skill. ... What I want for our people, for our young people is to be able to have a decent living. To be able to have a decent car. To be able to have Netflix. Or just be able to have a home that's warm with food in the refrigerator and their family taken care of. That's all I want for our kids."
District officials plan to gather input on the plan for a new school from every district on the reservation and bring to the school board an action plan and a budget in the early part of 2018.