Posted on September 12, 2018

American Indian Charter School Wins Approval in Oklahoma

VOA, September 11, 2018

Last month, Oklahoma education officials approved plans to open a charter school to serve American Indian students.

A charter school is established by a legal agreement, is operated by parents and teachers, uses public tax money, but is not linked to local schools.

The approval came from Oklahoma’s State Board of Education. The group’s decision came a few months after the Oklahoma City Public Schools’ board denied the plan.

The goal of the Sovereign Community School is to serve American Indian students from different tribes in the Oklahoma City area.

A ‘safe haven’

Phil Gover is the founding director of the Sovereign Schools Project. He led the effort to start the Sovereign Community School.


Eight years later, Gover received financing to create schools based on the model of the NACA school he had visited. This took place while he was working in Oklahoma City for the organization Teach for America.

Later, he joined the Tribal Education Department National Assembly, or TEDNA, and started the Sovereign Schools project. Gover said that TEDNA is developing three school projects right now, but the Sovereign Community School in Oklahoma City is his personal project.


The Oklahoma City Public School Board denied the first application for the school. Gover appealed the decision. His appeal also was denied. Under Oklahoma law, Gover’s group had the right to appeal the decision to the state board of education. They did appeal and later received approval for the school.

Gover said that the school will serve as a “safe haven” for American Indian students and families who wish to stay connected to their culture.


Gover understands these issues well. He grew up on Indian lands, known as reservations, in Nevada, but later left and has lived in cities ever since.


National studies often find that American Indian students do not perform as well academically as other groups. This also is true within the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Education school system.

But some studies have also found that American Indian students in Oklahoma’s public school system perform well. This is especially the case when they are compared to students in other states.

Building from nothing


Gover said his group will take a curriculum from the College Board called “Spring Board ELA,” and adapt it to be more culturally relevant to American Indian students and their experiences.

They will have to go through a similar process with mathematics and science.

However, Gover said his group will have to develop some resources themselves. One course Gover wants to create is a language program that teaches native students, from any tribe, the histories of their tribal languages and their relationship to English.

Along with Gover, the team developing the school curriculum will include local, Native professors.

An American Indian identity


During the application process, some officials said that having a charter school only for American Indians seemed like segregation.

Gover rejected that criticism. He said that having a choice to go to a school is not segregation.


“To have a native identity, especially in Oklahoma, is to be white sometimes, to be black sometimes, to be Hispanic sometimes. {snip},” Gover said.