By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre parents and community members who want to know how the sweeping federal education law known as No Child Left Behind will affect their children and their community can find out Thursday at a community forum put on by Havre Public Schools.
The forum, which will run from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Havre High School auditorium, will feature a slide presentation about No Child Left Behind and its implementation given by HPS superintendent Kirk Miller and assistant superintendent Dennis Parman.
"It's important for our community to understand how this law affects our district and students," Miller said in a press release sent out last week about the forum. The release calls No Child Left Behind "the federal government's largest ever expansion into our local school district."
"While we support the concept of No Child Left Behind and will fully comply with this new law, it is very complicated and will require an enormous effort by our schools, school district and state to implement," Miller said in the release.
No Child Left Behind was signed into law by President Bush in January 2002. It sets strict standards for attendance and graduation rates, participation rates for standardized tests, and reading and math scores on those tests. The law requires those standards not only for a school as a whole, but for subgroups within each school and district, including minorities, economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities - a total of 55 target requirements. Schools that fail to meet the requirements in any of the subgroups may eventually face penalties including a loss of funding and a replacement of faculty and administration.
Havre High School, Havre Middle School and Sunnyside Intermediate School were among the 179 schools - 21 percent of all the schools in the state - that did not meet all of the requirements of No Child Left Behind, according to a list released by the state Office of Public Instruction on Aug. 14.
After the lists came out, Miller said he was concerned that being included on the list would wrongly create an impression that Havre schools are failing.
Parman said today he hopes the forum can gauge the concern of parents.
"We're hoping that we may be able to get some feedback from parents about what their thoughts and feelings are," he said.
Parman also said the forum will provide an opportunity to explain why the Havre schools were put on the list.
"We want the chance to explain what some of those reasons are," he said.
HPS appealed to OPI for a review of Sunnyside's designation on the list earlier this month, and will find out the result of its appeal later this month.
At a June planning meeting, members of the Havre School Board said they were afraid that the community would not fully understand the measures the district must take to take to comply with No Child Left Behind and might resent the changes.
Trustee Todd Hanson at that meeting suggested the forum as a way to inform parents of the changes and to prevent criticism.
"A lot of parents don't even know it's there, much less what it's doing to us on a local level," he said at the meeting.
He also pointed to the effect that tying federal money to test scores will have.
"Our tax base at some point is going to be directly tied to what happens here," Hanson said. "This is going to have implications for us as an entire community."
Hanson has been one of the board's most vocal critics of No Child Left Behind, both for the law's invasiveness and his opposition to the policy's test-based approach. In June he described the law's "tentacles" as pervading the school system and reaching out into the community.
In addition to parents, representatives of more than 20 local organizations that work with children and officials from city, county and state government have been invited to the presentation.
The organizations include representatives from the Human Resources Development Council, Montana State University-Northern, Northern Montana Health Care, Bear Paw Development Corp., and Stone Child and Fort Belknap colleges.
Government officials who have been invited include Havre Mayor Bob Rice, the Hill County Commission, four local representatives from the Montana Legislature, and state Sens. Jon Tester and Kim Hansen.
"It's not something the schools can do all by themselves," Parman said. "If everyone is aware in the community of the implications for the district and the definitions that go along with (No Child Left Behind), we think that's a better way to address these issues."
A draft agenda of the forum said it will begin with an explanation of parts of the District Education Work Plan that directly relate to No Child Left Behind implementation. Miller and Parman will then give an overview of the requirements of No Child Left Behind, and will discuss Havre schools' results on last year's standardized tests, and the reasons why Havre was listed as not complying with the requirements by OPI.
Parman said there will be a question-and-answer session at the end of the forum.