NSBA’s National American Indian and Alaska Native Council (AIAN) presented its 2020 Luminous Eagle Award to North Carolina’s Cherokee Central Schools during the 2020 CUBE Annual Virtual Conference.

The Luminous Eagle Award honors districts for their excellence in establishing and executing policies, practices, and strategies that promote and enhance equitable conditions, increased access to quality instruction and improved academic outcomes and career readiness for American Indian and Alaska Native students.

A tribally operated school since 1990, Cherokee Central Schools is in western North Carolina, the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Ninety-one percent of the district is American Indian/Alaska Native.

Through the district’s Personalized Education Through Blended Learning and ESTEAM (Entrepreneurship, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) initiative, they provide all of their students with the opportunity to explore various ESTEAM curricula and activities using technology as a resource in a blended learning environment. The district has hosted Tech Fairs and Makerspaces and the high school provides opportunities for advanced coursework such as AP courses. The blended learning model also helped prepare Cherokee Central Schools for the transition to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All students receive free breakfast and lunch and additional funding is often provided for student group needs. Over the last few years, the students in the Cherokee Chamber Singers have represented their school and community by performing an original composition across the country, including at the National Gallery of Art, Disney World, and Carnegie Hall. Their performance—sung in both English and Cherokee—proclaims that the Cherokee Nation still exists.


Recognizing the importance of whole child health, Cherokee Elementary School is a Trauma Resilient School supported with grant funding from the Bureau of Indian Education. The administration also actively invests in the future of the district, undertaking a facilities expansion project and implementing teacher retention efforts.

“Cherokee Central Schools embodies the values of the Luminous Eagle Award, which are reflected in both the district’s policies and practices,” says AIAN Chair David Snyder, who also serves as Co-Chair on the school board of Wyoming’s Fremont County School District #21. “The district’s commitment to educational equity serves as an example to all. I am particularly inspired by the way the district ensures that any student who wishes to participate in a school program has the institutional support they need."

The Luminous Eagle Award is sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education, a learning science company that delivers personalized learning experiences that help students, parents, educators, and professionals improve results.

The Luminous Eagle Award is one of several NSBA-sponsored awards that recognizes schools that have prioritized educational equity. Learn about this year’s RISE Award and Abrazo Award.

Learn more about the AIAN Council.

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