Nixyaawii Community School to start in-person learning

Feb. 22 start date approved by NCS school board

By Cary Rosenbaum of the CUJ

MISSION – Nixyaawii Community School students are set to return Feb. 22 after the school board unanimously voted to allow in-person learning.

The hybrid plan is to have students attend two days per week and perform distance learning two more days in an effort to improve attendance and grading.

“The kids are excited,” NCS Principal Ryan Heinrich said. “Once we can get the kids in and reach them, I know we can get some of these kids caught back up and hopefully relieve some of the numbers” concerning grades and attendance.

NCS had a 78.3 attendance rate for distance learning compared to 93.3 percent in-person last year, according to Heinrich.

“Attendance is a huge issue,” he said.

Incompletes are also an issue, Heinrich said, noting 38 students received Fs for Quarter 1. By the end of Quarter 2, 44 students had incompletes.

“Not the best numbers there,” Heinrich said. “Letters were sent home, calls were made, numerous emails, Facebook posts, websites trying to get kids in.”

As of January’s meeting, eight out of 28 seniors had an incomplete. Heinrich believes the school can get 25 to graduate.

He was particularly alarmed with the freshman class, where 10 out of 16 had incompletes.

“We’ll have our work cut out getting them caught up down the road,” he said.

NCS hopes the in-person learning environment will begin to turn those results around, according to Heinrich.

The school’s staff will complete their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine by Feb. 9, according to officials.

“Everyone (on staff) will have been vaccinated,” Heinrich said, “and hopefully the (COVID case) numbers continue to decline.”

There is also the logistical challenge of preparing to re-enter the building, according to Heinrich.

“There’s quite a few boxes to check to bring kids back in the building,” he said. “A lot of it’s based on the physical distancing and cleanliness.”

Mental health on the mind

Cindy Cecil, the School Based Mental Health Therapist for Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center, said there is anxiety surrounding students returning to school.

“That anxiety, however, is overshadowed by the desire to get back to some normalcy in returning to campus, connecting with friends and teachers,” she said.

Cecil said the consensus shows students appear more anxious, as well as increases in depression over the last nine months.

“Given what I just said, there are some students who are thriving from online, in-home instruction,” she said. “We will assess these levels as youth return to on-campus learning.”

As one of YHTC’s therapists, Cecil acknowledged there has been increased difficulty in connecting with clients.

“It has been difficult as a whole to connect with clients due to lack of in-person interactions,” she said. “We have tried to stay connected via Zoom, telephone calls and letters.”

School board positions open

The Nixyaawii Community School (NCS) Board’s bylaws changed to become a five member board, eliminating a sixth position.

Currently, there are two openings: One is for a community member and one for a Tribal member. Applications are available on the school’s website or may be picked up at the school office.
For both positions, the term duration is from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2025. Eligibility requirements include being 18 years or older, pass a criminal background check, attend Board meetings on a consistent basis and more. Board member applications will be due on Feb. 19. The Board Election will occur on Mar. 18 and to a swearing in will occur in May.

Outgoing board members include Chair Randall Melton, Vice-Chair Corinne Sams and Andria Scott. The remaining Board members include Marissa Baugartner, Candice Patrick, and Sally Kosey, who serves as the Education and Training Committee (ETC) board member.

For more information, visit the NCS website.

Graduation rates released

The Oregon Department of Education released the 2019-20 graduation rates for all public schools in Oregon, on Jan. 20.

Nixyaawii Community School had a slight increase of 4.17 percent this academic year to reach a 79.17 percent graduation rate.

Pendleton High School had a slight increase of 1.04 percent to move to 90.36 percent.

Pilot Rock High School saw an increase of 12.5 percent, bringing the school to 87.5 percent.

For more information on graduation rates in Umatilla County, visit

Sports update

Heinrich was approved unanimously by the school board as the NCS Athletic Director.

He noted traditional fall sports — including volleyball, football and cross-country — will begin practicing with in-person learning occurring.

Volleyball players will be required to wear masks, Heinrich said.

“It will be a month before they play a game, with hopefully a limited number in the gym,” Heinrich said. “Hopefully the student athletes may not have to wear masks, but it’s not looking like it. There will be no fans in the gym for volleyball.”

For the first time ever, the football team will do a co-op with Pendleton High School, Heinrich said. There are talks within the Oregon School Activities Association of playing 7-on-7 football, Heinrich said.

In cross-country, the OSAA is considering having staggered starts of 10 runners.

As far as the post-season goes, Heinrich said there will be a culminating week which is the traditional state championship week.

“Schools can opt into it or play a regular season game that week,” he said.

Basketball is up in the air, Heinrich said. But if played, he said the school would likely opt into the postseason if it made it.

Megan Van Pelt contributed to this report.