Betty Ojaye stepped down June 30 after 27 years at school

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FARMINGTON — In 1991, Betty Ojaye was part of a four-member team charged with the responsibility of launching the newly established Navajo Preparatory School here.

Ojaye continued that responsibility until she retired as head of school on June 30.

"After 27 years, I have a great sense of fulfillment in the job that I did here. I feel very comfortable about it," she said in an interview on Tuesday.

In a tenure that spans from the school's initial mission to be a college preparatory school for Native Americans to developing a curriculum that incorporates Navajo language, culture and history, Ojaye addressed challenges and advocated for advancement.

Among the achievements she highlighted was Navajo Prep becoming the first Native American International Baccalaureate high school to offer the Diploma Programme, and it continues to have 98 percent of it graduates enter colleges and universities across the country.

"I'm proud of all the students who have gone out and been successful and come back to contribute to their communities and are successful in their various professions. I think that makes everything we've done here so worthwhile," Ojaye said.

Her work resulted in the Navajo Nation Council buying the 83 acres where the campus is located from the United Methodist Church, which operated the first school on the property, in 1995.

She also led the campaign to secure $40 million in grants and funding to replace the school's dilapidated buildings since many were built in the early 1900s.

"We had many ups and downs, but with many people's assistance, we were able to establish a school that has become a model school for Native American schools across the nation," she said.

Matthew Tso, member at large for the board of trustees, said the school thrived under Ojaye's direction to transform from a faith-based curriculum to an IB World School.

On Tuesday, Navajo Prep announced in a press release it has named Shawna Becenti as the new head of school. Becenti graduated from the school in 1993 and was principal at Kirtland Central High School for seven years.

The release also named former Kirtland Central athletic director Keith Neil as the new dean of instruction.

Becenti is joining a staff that includes several Navajo Prep alumni, and Ojaye said she is confident they will continue to successfully guide the school.

"I've seen many of our young alumni out there, doing great things, and I think it's their time now to continue to take this school and keep it moving toward the next generation," Ojaye said.

Although she stepped away from leading Navajo Prep, Ojaye will remain in a supportive role by helping to oversee a U.S. Department of Education grant the school received for the IB Programme.

Ojaye also plans to help maintain the hogan located at the center of campus, as well as the school's greenhouse.

Navajo Prep will remain a part of Ojaye's personal life, as well, as one of her grandsons will start his freshman year there — a connection that provides her the opportunity to continue supporting the school's athletic teams.

Her three daughters and oldest grandson all graduated from Navajo Prep.

"This has been, I guess you might say, our second home," she said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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