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Mashpee honored with MAGNA Award

Young Wamponoag dancers
Consuelo Carroll

Congratulations to the Mashpee Public School district one of three Grand Prize 2021 Magna Award winners given by the National School Board Association.  By removing barriers they exemplify school district innovation and creativity in achieving educational equity. 

2021 Magna Awards: Grand Prize
Amid the pandemic, these district programs shine through

April 01, 2021

School districts both small and large across the country are removing barriers for students. The three Grand Prize 2021 Magna Award winners exemplify school district innovation and creativity in achieving educational equity.

A partnership between a district and a Native American tribe; a college readiness and academic support program for multilingual students; and a horticultural program that provides educational, vocational, and life skills for students with special needs. These are among the winning programs for the 2021 Magna Awards.

For more than 25 years, the Magna Awards have recognized innovative school district programs. This has not been a normal year. Our winning programs—the Grand Prize winners and the first-place winners—represent the enormous efforts of school leaders and district staff to continue during the pandemic to remove barriers to achievement for their underserved and vulnerable students.

We present these winning programs with the hope that you will discover information that you can use in your districts, especially during these times of crisis. Our profiles give you an overview of the programs, including evidence of success. We include district contact information so you can find out more from the school leaders and staff who manage these initiatives.

We also created an opportunity for you to learn from the three Grand Prize-winning districts. They will be presenting their equity programs at NSBA’s online Annual Conference April 8 through 10.

We invite you to connect with your peers to gain insights and practical ideas to create more equitable schools for your students.

young members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in traditional outfits



Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Partnership

Mashpee Public Schools
Mashpee, Massachusetts
Under 5,000 enrollment

Link to video

Archeological evidence shows the presence of Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for at least 12,000 years. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is one of the original 69 tribes comprising the Wampanoag Nation. The Wampanoag were the native people encountered by the English colonists in the 17th century, participating in the mythologized First Thanksgiving story. The tribe’s current enrollment is just over 2,800 people, the majority of whom still live in or near the town of Mashpee.

About 10 percent of Mashpee Public Schools students are Native American. Research shows that most native students in the U.S. trail their peers in achievement, attendance, and postsecondary readiness. In 2017, the district created a formalized working partnership with the tribe to create an inclusive school district in which the tribe’s rich heritage and culture are recognized and celebrated and in which the academic growth and social-emotional well-being of the Mashpee Wampanoag students are advanced through an emphasis on culture-based education principles and practices.

“Our goal is to ensure the success of every child,” says Mashpee School Committee Vice Chair Nicole Bartlett. “With native students a significant portion of our population, Mashpee has a responsibility to address native student needs.”

Bartlett, who serves as the northeast region director on NSBA’s National American Indian/Alaska Native Council of School Board Members board of directors, initiated the partnership after being elected to the board in 2017.

Members include Mashpee’s district and school-based leaders, including a school board member, and tribal members/leaders. The partnership meets quarterly to sustain and provide shared ownership. During regular joint meetings of the Mashpee School Committee and the Tribal Council, the partnership’s goals and accomplishments are publicly discussed and shared.

Members of the tribe provide professional development for teachers on how to support and understand native students’ culture. Teachers learn, for example, that when native students don’t make eye contact, they are showing respect, not disrespect. Tribal elders work with the district and families on some disciplinary issues, including attendance and tardiness.

the superintendent of the district embraces a student on graduation day, they are both in academic regalia and the student is wearing a graduation cap

Marshpee Superintendent Patricia DeBoer at the high school graduation. PHOTO COURTESY OF MASHPEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

“There’s a history in this town,” says Mashpee Superintendent Patricia DeBoer. “Some native people did not have the most positive experience in school. You are dealing with those same students who are now parents, and there’s a trauma to get past.”

The partnership works on making native students and their families feel accepted and heard. The district now offers Wampanoag language courses in middle school and high school. The flags of the tribe fly outside school buildings.

“The district has worked extremely hard to put those things in place,” says Roxanne D. Mills Brown, director of education for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Brown, who worked for federal Bureau of Indian Affairs for 25 years before that, says Mashpee is an example that other districts in the area use as a model.

One highly visible item that comes from the partnership is the Land Acknowledgment poster. This poster is displayed in all district classrooms and common areas. It reads in English and in the Wampanoag language: “The Mashpee Wampanoag welcome you to our traditional homeland. The Mashpee Public Schools recognize and honor the many generations of Wôpanâak people who have lived and been sustained in this territory for more than 10,000 years.”

Ellen Holmes, 2021 President of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, says, “The reinvigorated partnership between the Mashpee Public Schools and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe demonstrates how public schools across the commonwealth are leading by example, putting student equity at the forefront of district priorities and connecting their communities through our most valuable shared resource: our children.”