Navajo vice principal returns home to help create opportunity for other Native American children

SMIS Vice Principal Tazbah Shortey also spends time in the classroom. She teaches a class on how to handle personal finances.

By Kim Martinez
During her junior year at the University of Notre Dame, Tazbah Shortey began to feel like she had an important calling. Up until then, she had no plans to return to the Navajo tribal community where she grew up in Window Rock, Arizona.
“When I first started college I wanted to go as far away as I could and never look back, but my mind set changed,” says Tazbah, Vice Principal at St. Michael Indian School. “My realization that I wanted to teach brought me back and the opportunities I was receiving kept pointing me to St. Michael Indian School, it all just fit together.”
Months after college graduation, Tazbah started as the 4th grade teacher at St. Michael Indian School (SMIS). Almost immediately the administration saw leadership potential in the young teacher and started grooming her for advancement.
Now at the young age of 29, Tazbah has been the school’s vice principal for the last four years. The school is one of the highest performing schools on the Navajo Nation with a 98 percent high school graduation rate. It is well known in the community that almost every SMIS graduate goes to college.
“Our parents expect their child to go to college after graduation,” says Tazbah. “We have families that travel over an hour each way to send their child to school here.”
SMIS’s success is a drastic difference when compared to the outcomes most Native American children achieve. Sadly, Native children are at the very bottom of student achievement in both math and reading statewide and the students often have only low-performing public schools to attend.
Tazbah remembers what it was like for her as a child growing up in Window Rock, she always knew of SMIS, but her family did not have the financial resources to send her to the 100-year-old private school. Now, as part of Arizona’s education savings account (ESA) program, Native American children living in tribal communities automatically qualify for ESAs, which can be used to cover the tuition at SMIS among other educational expenses.
“ESAs open the door of opportunity to families who may not have been able to consider coming here,” says Tazbah.
Speaking from her own experience, once as a Navajo child and now as an effective educator, Tazbah says opportunity and access to a quality education are the best things to give rural tribal children to help them succeed.
“Some of the kids never travel far from the reservation, so we need to show them what is available in life outside of their own community,” says Tazbah. “Coming back, I was able to expand the lives of my students by exposing them to the things I learned when I went away to college.”
All those years ago, Tazbah made the decision to answer her calling. Today her tribal community and her school is a better place because she did.

October is National Principal’s Month and throughout the month, AFC will share stories from principals of choice schools across the country to celebrate their accomplishments and the accomplishments of principals nationwide.


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