record number of students is expected to graduate this spring from
a Montana State University program that prepares American Indian
educators for leadership positions in schools with high populations
of American Indian students.
In partnership with Little Big Horn College, MSU's Indian
Leadership Education and Development program, or I LEAD, offers
American Indian educators an opportunity to earn a master's degree
in educational leadership and qualify for state licensure as principals
and superintendents without having to leave their jobs. The program
aims to place new American Indian principals and superintendents
in schools with high populations of American Indian students.
Nineteen I LEAD students will graduate tomorrow, May 9, at MSU's
spring commencement with master's degrees in educational leadership,
according to Catherine
M. Johnson, I LEAD project director. Another student graduated
with a master's degree in the fall. Johnson added that 11 students
from the I LEAD program will earn their superintendent licensure
this spring and two more have earned principal licensure.
To have an increasing number of students graduating from I LEAD
means that more of the program's graduates will be employed in schools
with high populations of American Indian students and that's
a positive thing for those schools, according to Bill
Ruff, one of the founders of I LEAD and currently the lead principal
investigator of the grant that funds the program.
"More members of the (American Indian) community will have a
greater voice in the administration of schools in these communities,"
Ruff said. "This is very important."
Ruff added that the increasing number of I LEAD graduates also
indicates that positive things are happening at MSU.
"This demonstrates that MSU is creating the space for people
from different cultures to co-exist and learn from each other,"
Since I LEAD's inception in 2006, 104 students have completed
the program and earned master's degrees and licensures, Johnson
said. Ninety-three percent of those students have been placed in
school leadership positions within two years of graduation, she
Each summer, I LEAD students spend four weeks on the MSU campus
in Bozeman. Throughout the rest of the year, I LEAD participants
meet as a group online or at a place locally accessible to students,
such as Little Big Horn College. In between meetings, students complete
course assignments via online methods. The curriculum is designed
so that participants can use their class work to solve problems
facing their schools. The program covers tuition, fees, books and
a summer stipend for participants who commit to working as a school
administrator for two years in a school with a significant portion
of American Indian students. It also provides mentoring, tutoring
sessions and various workshops to help its students succeed.
I LEAD student Greg Gourneau will graduate May 9 with a master's
degree in educational leadership. Gourneau was raised in Poplar
on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. He has enjoyed working as an
8th grade social studies teacher at the school from which he graduated,
but he decided to enroll in the I LEAD program so that he could
become a school administrator and have a larger impact.
"I've always liked helping people," Gourneau said. "As a school
administrator, I have a more vast area to cover and can help more
kids than those I would see in the classroom."
Gourneau will start in August as the principal of Frontier,
a rural school by Wolf Point. He said that he hopes he will be able
to help kids value education.
"Education to me is very important," Gourneau said. "Education
opens doors for kids, and for people in general. It allows you to
have options when you become an adult."
I LEAD student Toni Tatsey, from Browning, will also graduate
this spring with a master's degree in educational leadership. She
said the financial assistance the program provides enabled her to
pursue the degree. Although she was initially hesitant to go back
to school after having earned her bachelor's degree nearly 20 years
previously, she said the first class took away any fears she had.
She is now an assistant principal at the kindergarten through third
grade level in Browning, a position she began in December.
"It's been going awesome so far," Tatsey said. "I've been thinking,
'why didn't I (enroll in this program) earlier?'"
Keith Erickson is currently the assistant principal at Poplar
Elementary School. Born and raised in Poplar, Erickson has now worked
in the school district for 16 years eight years as a teacher
and eight as an administrator. Erickson earned a master's degree
through the I LEAD program in 2009, and he recently completed coursework
for a doctorate in educational leadership with the help of the I
LEAD program. Erickson also currently serves as a mentor through
Erickson said there are many positive parts of the program.
"I think that I LEAD is a program that from inception gave a
voice to all of us who were working on reservation schools in regards
to leadership," Erickson said. "Dr. Ruff and Dr. (Joanne) Erickson
(another founder of the program) truly understood that things on
reservation schools are sometimes different and should be treated
as such. The network of Native administrators as a result of I LEAD
is a very powerful thing and something that I am proud to be a part
Individuals who would like to learn more about I LEAD are invited
to visit the program's website at http://www.montana.edu/education/ilead/
or contact Johnson at (406) 994-7881 or firstname.lastname@example.org.