AASA Central | David Aiken, Superintendent, Lapwai School District #341, Lapwai, Idaho, and Jeff Dillon, Superintendent, Wilder School District, Wilder, Idaho
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David Aiken, Superintendent, Lapwai School District #341, Lapwai, Idaho, and Jeff Dillon, Superintendent, Wilder School District, Wilder, Idaho

Idaho: Leaders Matter 

Nominated By: Rob Winslow, Executive Director, Idaho Association of School Administrators 

David Aiken, Superintendent, Lapwai School District #341, Lapwai, Idaho


The Lapwai Valley is home to the first rural high school in Idaho and the first integrated school system of its kind, Indian and Non-Indian students, in the United States.

The Lapwai School District is located on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation with an 86 percent Native American student population. Its relationship with the tribe is critical to the success of Lapwai students, which is the largest population of Nez Perce students in the world. The administration works closely with the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Committee, Nez Perce Tribe Education Department and the Circle of Elders.

Despite minority demographics and a high poverty rate, Lapwai’s students continue to beat the odds with pockets of exciting growth. Overall, the Lapwai School District grew 7.5 percent in student proficiency on the Idaho State Achievement Tests from 2014-2015 to 2015-2016. This is in comparison to only 2.3 percent average growth statewide.

Lapwai students have a competitive Go-On rate to college, too. Though Lapwai had long been classified by “School Improvement” status, its focus on improving teaching and learning moved the district out of this determination last year. The recent identifications for Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) schools did not include Lapwai, where all districts with similar demographics qualified as CSI.

Lapwai’s demographics are unique in comparison to many other Idaho schools. Ethnicity is a strength for Lapwai students who are surrounded with such rich culture and beautiful history. Lapwai’s collaboration with Nez Perce Education Department has facilitated student achievement through cultural competence and responsiveness.

Nez Perce language instruction has been expanded into the school day, preK-through-high school, where it had previously been limited to after-school enrichment and one dedicated high school class. The current high school Nez Perce language class is dual enrollment for college credit and counts as a foreign language requirement as students enter college.

The superintendent co-facilitates a native culture and language team with the Nez Perce Education Department as a component to the State Tribal Education Project (STEP) grant. Objectives include: 1) Providing leadership for culture and language; 2) Engaging the community with culture and language; and 3) Infusing culture and language in curriculum and instruction.

Action plans include an annual student pow wow to honor our graduates and retirees, as well as a Respecting Our Elders day where Nez Perce elders engage and share stories, legends and perspectives with elementary school students. Embracing the strengths of ethnicity and integrating the culture of our students into instruction has led to pockets of growth in student achievement higher than the state average and a competitive go-on rate of students moving on to higher education.

Another smaller example of removing barriers to achievement is what the administration did about feeding its students. When the superintendent began in 2010, he discovered more than $20,000 in unpaid lunch bills. He quickly utilized socioeconomic status (vis-à-vis Lapwai’s free and reduced lunch rate) to qualify the district for a Provision II Free Meal Program. The intense work required to become a free program may have been a barrier in the past. But the business manager, food service manager and superintendent went through the channels to provide free breakfast and lunch district-wide. The school board graciously wrote off outstanding amounts many families were not capable of paying. In addition, the free meal program was such a success that it was expanded to include free dinner for elementary students during after school programs.

All of this was done when David Aiken took on the role of superintendent.

Exemplars of Leadership:

  • Demonstrated leadership in Native American education setting in transition.
  • Improved student achievement linked while retaining cultural identity.
  • Demonstrated removal of barriers to achievement.


Jeff Dillon, Superintendent, Wilder School District, Wilder, Idaho



The Wilder School District is a farming community in southwest Idaho. The community in which the district is located has a population of just over 1,500. The community is largely Hispanic and the median home income is less than $24,000. The student demographic is 80 percent Hispanic, 25 percent English language learners, 7 percent migrant, a mobility rate at 30 percent, which means that 30 percent of students are new to the district each year, and the FLR is 100 percent. In the past 5 years the student enrollment has grown over 30 percent, with 30 certified staff, 31 classified staff and 2 administrators.

Superintendent Dillon’s focus is on meeting the learning needs of all students in order to improve achievement district-wide. The following strategies have been employed to close the level achievement gap for the 100 percent FRL population and grow achievement for all students in the district:

  • Differentiated Instruction K-12. Professional development was utilized to help teachers transition to a model of differentiated instruction. In most classes teachers were teaching students with 2 levels above or below grade level. Students were grouped in small clusters and instructed at their independent learning level for reading and math.
  • In conjunction with differentiated learning, teachers created individual learning plans for every student. This document detailed intervention to enrichment activities for reading and math and was effectively communicated to every parent.
  • Creating a culture of respect and responsibility. As teachers differentiated instruction, student engagement increased and discipline referrals were decreased. In the past 4 years, the referral rate has dropped significantly and the district now rates as the seventh safest school district in Idaho.
  • The past administration allowed students and encouraged them to transfer to an alternative school if they were failing a class or had behavioral issues. During Dillon’s time as superintendent, not one student has been sent to the alternative school because of behavior or failing a class.

As the passion for closing the achievement gap grew among staff, administration and school board, there were two issues that continued to go unmet. The first was summer learning loss that students of poverty are faced with each year. Every year, the highly effective teachers were able to demonstrate significant growth throughout the year, but when they returned to school in the fall, it was like starting all over again. The second issue is high mobility rate of students. Dillon’s tenure has typically experienced a 30 percent turnover rate in students from year to year.

The fix for these two issues:

  • Implementing a technology initiative with the Apple ConnectED grant. In addition to Apple’s grant the district received an additional grant from Sprint that allowed every device with data service off campus. Students were allowed to take devices home and not be hampered by the lack of connectivity that most families struggle with at home. This allows for a one-to-one environment 24/7 for the district to truly be innovative and creative.
  • Being accepted into the Mastery-based education pilot and receiving a waiver from the Idaho State Department of Education. This provided curriculum access during the summer for students to continue their course work, if desired, or maintain their level of reading and math through project-based activities. In addition, as students arrive to the district, the school system now has the capacity to personalize every student’s learning path no matter how far above or below they may be entering the district.

The district’s efforts are showing quality results: An overall increase in the ISAT ELA proficiency scores of 26 percent from the previous year, by cohort. Additionally, 40 percent of all students K-12 have chosen to attend summer school learning opportunities. Thirty percent of high school students are taking Advanced Opportunities classes during the summer and 50 percent of high school students are taking dual enrollment courses. Ninety-five percent of the seniors are currently enrolled in a concurrent enrollment class, with a class average of 14 college credits earned upon graduation.

Exemplars of Leadership:

  • Demonstrated leadership in rural diverse school district with emphasis on student achievement.
  • Instituted individualized learning plan to promote student achievement.
  • Employed extensive use of technology linked with dual enrollment programs.

To learn more about the superintendents profiled in AASA’s Leaders Matter campaign, visit aasacentral.org/leadersmatter. To join the conversation via Twitter, please access #LeadersMatter.


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