A troubled Salem boarding school for Native American students has lost its leader.

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Chemawa Superintendent Laura Braucher

Chemawa Superintendent Laura Braucher

Chemawa Indian School

Lora Braucher had been superintendent at Chemawa Indian School since 2014. She arrived with a reputation as a turnaround specialist and pledging to have a long tenure at Chemawa, which had seen a decade of near-constant turnover in the superintendent’s office.

Chemawa is the only school in Oregon run by the Bureau of Indian Education, a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Interior. BIE also runs the school where Braucher is headed: the Pine Ridge School, a campus of 800 students in South Dakota, which primarily serves day students from the surrounding area but has a residence hall. BIE spokeswoman Nedra Darling said the Pine Ridge School is bringing Braucher on as an education program administrator.

“She has moved on, and the Pine Ridge area is real excited to have her on board with her wealth of experience,” Darling said.

She characterized Braucher’s move as a promotion.

Related: Chemawa Indian School

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An OPB investigation in 2017 found numerous problems at Chemawa under Braucher. She was at the helm when a female student died of heart failure in a dormitory, amid a chaotic and confused response from staff. Two other students struggling with drug problems died after being forced out of Chemawa against the wishes of the students' families and some members of the school community.

Members of Oregon's congressional delegation have paid multiple visits to the school over the last two years, and they held a hearing on Capitol Hill in May. Braucher's absence at that hearing drew the ire of congressional members.

But as recently as last month, U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, met with Braucher on campus and afterward said they felt she was being more collaborative.

“I was encouraged today by the conversations with the administration, finding places where we could work with them to help,” Bonamici told reporters after meeting with Braucher.

It’s difficult to get a clear view of what’s happening inside Chemawa, as school staff have been told for years not to discuss the school outside the “chain of command.” Numerous former staff members have told OPB that their reports through approved channels were routinely ignored, or met with retaliation.

Related: Former Chemawa Staff Say Concerns Were Met With Retaliation, Bullying

A few weeks ago, Schrader said his request for a lifting of the “gag order” at the school had finally lifted. But the staff that have contacted OPB since then continue to insist on anonymity out of fear their jobs are at risk if they publicly discuss problems at the school.

Braucher could point to improved assessment scores to show academic progress, and some school staff said Chemawa had a stronger focus on academics under Braucher.

But other problems continued, including questionable student expulsions and reports of retaliation against whistleblowers, as well as a frustrating lack of transparency, according to some Native American leaders and members of Congress. Some of the blame, according to congressional members and staff, is with BIE officials rather than exclusively with Chemawa administrators.

As a sign of possible cooperation on that front, members of Oregon's congressional delegation recently received a response to a document request they made over the summer, for maps and descriptions of who is responsible for what parts of Chemawa's 300-acre campus on the north side of Salem.

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