Courtesy Bureau of Indian Affairs
Bureau of Indian Education Acting Director Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes speaks with a student at the 2016 Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute graduation in April.

Could You Be the New BIE Director? Applications Now Being Accepted

Tanya H. Lee

Committed to tribal communities. Energetic. Skilled in managing people and programs. Prepared to take on the challenges and opportunities presented by the Blueprint for Reform.

These are some of the qualities the Bureau of Indian Education is looking for in its new director, according to Acting Director Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

“I have been in this position for just over 90 days,” Bledsoe Downes said. “What I’ve learned is how important the management component is, being responsible for the day-to-day operations of the overall BIE organization, which in some respects is removed from the day-to-day operations of the classrooms. It is crucial for the director to help bridge that gap between what happens in the central office and what is happening in the classroom to make sure what is happening in the classroom can happen efficiently and adequately and is helping to support student achievement.”

The BIE oversees the operation of 183 schools and dorms serving 42,000 elementary and secondary students. Tribes control 130 of the schools and the BIE operates the rest. BIE also has formal relationships with 32 tribal colleges, universities, and post-secondary schools. Of those it operates Haskell Indian Nations University and the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute and is the pass-through organization for Navajo Technical University and United Tribes Technical College.

“The director is responsible for the oversight and management of the programs that go into the schools. The role for the director is a little bit different depending on whether schools are bureau-operated or tribally-controlled, but essentially, the director is overseeing those schools and is responsible for meeting all the statutory regulations and requirements as well as managing the staff of the D.C. office and the field offices and helping to support the schools in whatever way they may need,” Bledsoe Downes said.

The position requires a bachelor’s degree; a master’s or doctorate would be a bonus. Expertise in education “is really, really valuable,” said Bledsoe Downes, but so is management and “that skill set can come from a broad range of areas.” Bledsoe Downes has a bachelor’s in education and a law degree. “I’m using my law degree more often than I am using my bachelor’s.”

This is an exciting time to be at BIE, said Bledsoe Downes, because big changes are underway. “Under our reorganization plan, we’re shifting models from being a very report-heavy, top-down kind of organization to much more of a service organization for the tribal communities that are taking control of their own schools. This requires a very solutions-oriented mindset, with a real commitment to the community and a lot of energy to stay in and navigate the solutions to questions.”

She continued: “One goal of the reorganization is to make sure the director has the support he or she needs on the organizational side so they can focus on the broader policy issues, the budget issues, things like that. This is a really exciting time because it frees up the [director’s] position to focus on those issues in a way that has never been possible in the past. We’ll continue to operate some schools directly, but the wave of the future really is the tribally-controlled model. The director will be able to build out BIE in a way that supports that model and continues to maintain our trust responsibility to tribes, but promotes tribal sovereignty for those communities who are looking to take over their schools.”

Budgets are always a challenge, but Bledsoe Downes said, “we have experienced some of the best budget investments we have ever had. This administration has made the BIE a priority and been very committed to it. I think there is a real recognition that with good investments, we’re creating long-term solutions for tribal communities, and what better investment could we make?”

There’s progress in improving school facilities as well. “Congress appropriated money to finish off the 2004 construction list and we have announced the 2010 list. There’s planning and design money for at least a portion of that list.” In addition, the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig school replacement has been expedited and students are expected to be in their new school early next year. “If we can continue to make that kind of progress and show such quick results, the bipartisan support we have for facilities construction will continue. And that’s going to be great because the more we can get through our construction list and bring our poor condition schools into either good condition or get them replaced, that’s going to be a better learning environment for our kids and we’ll see student achievement hopefully increase with that as well,” Bledsoe Downes said.

Applications must be filed online. The closing date is August 8. Preference will be given to persons of Indian descent who are: (a) Members of any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction; (b) Descendants of such members who were, on June 1, 1934, residing within the present boundaries of any Indian reservation; (c) All others of one-half or more Indian blood of tribes indigenous to the U.S., and (d) Eskimos and other aboriginal people in Alaska,” according to 25CFR 5.1.

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