ByJerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Editor's note: This is the third of four profiles of candidates running for two seats on the Havre school board. The election is Tuesday.
Havre school board member Kathie Newell, running for her fifth full term on the board, describes herself as a candidate with a wealth of experience and a finger on the pulse of her community.
"I think most importantly I'm a community member who cares about my community, and I guess I want to play an active role in helping to keep Havre the great place it is to live and raise kids," Newell, 48, said in a recent interview. "The length of time we've lived here and my job experience have helped me to get to know the people and what they think is important for the community."
Newell, who has been public relations manager at Northern Montana Hospital since 1990, is the only one of the four candidates running for the Havre school board who has previous school board experience.
She said that in the 13 years she has been on the school board she has learned "just a massive amount" about school district operations and education issues.
Newell served as chair of the Havre school board from 1994 to 1996 after serving two years as vice chair. She currently serves as vice chair of the board.
Newell, whose two children were educated by Havre Public Schools, said she believes her experience "can continue to benefit the kids of our district."
In 1997 the Montana School Board Association presented Newell with its Marvin Heintz Gold Award. The award is presented to a select group of certified board members every year who show "an extraordinary commitment to continuing education, strengthening boardsmanship abilities and providing leadership in the community," according to the association.
Here is a brief breakdown of Newell's positions on some of the issues that have come Marital status: married.before the Havre school board in the past year.
Newell said she thinks the district is dealing with the requirements of No Child Left Behind, President Bush's federal education law, "amazingly well." The district has to continue to work to meet the requirements of the law but avoid "teaching to the tests," she said.
Newell said she agrees with the principal of the law - that every child deserves to be educated. But she said she worries the law will require schools to focus so much time and energy on helping struggling students that average and gifted students will be left behind.
Newell believes the best-case scenario would be that No Child Left Behind is redesigned to allow states like Montana more flexibility.
In August of 2003 Newell voted to spend $5,000 to support a lawsuit to force the state Legislature to spend more on public education.
She said the state's share of education funding has fallen from 71 percent in 1991 to about 60 percent today.
"The local taxpayers are just being taxed way too heavily and the state is, in my opinion, not carrying the portion of the burden that it should be carrying," Newell said. She added that the state's funding system should be overhauled and made more equitable, so that all Montana students get the same education regardless of district size, geographical setting or socioeconomic situation.
Newell said she likely will not support the addition of girls varsity softball and boys cross country at Havre High School.
In 2000 Newell voted against the addition of any new varsity sports after HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller cited declining enrollment, the costs associated with adding new sports, and problems complying with Title IX gender equity rules.
Newell said she favors giving kids as many extracurricular opportunities as possible, but only if it does not threaten the funding available for academic programs.
"I'm willing to listen to the presentations ... but I'm going to need something a lot different than I heard three or four years ago because in my opinion I'm not willing to cut academic programs," Newell said last week at a forum for the school board candidates.
When school board member Todd Hanson urged the district to conduct an audit of racism and cultural sensitivity in June, Newell said she wanted to make sure an effort to achieve cultural understanding would not focus only on Native Americans.
In an interview last week she said she thinks it was "healthy that the issue was called to our attention."
"My problem with the way it was presented was ... I'm all for cultural awareness, but I am not in favor of limiting it to just one culture, and the accusation of racism, I guess, bothered me enough to really start researching and looking at things more carefully."
She added, "I guess what I've found is I believe our district is doing a good job given the resources that we have. And that's not to say that there's not always room for improvement."
She said she has not yet determined whether racism exists in Havre schools.
"I guess I just want to say that I'm still real sensitive to that accusation and I am still watching and listening," she said.
When asked what the school district should do to narrow the gap between the graduation rates of Native American and white students, Newell said the district should do everything it can to allow every child the chance to graduate and to understand why the disparity exists. But she said that making sure a child graduates is not solely the responsibility of the school district.
"I don't believe that the reason that one child doesn't graduate and another does is solely the fault of the culture or the school district or the home," she said.
About 57 percent of American Indian seniors who began the 2000-2001 school year at Havre High School graduated, compared with about 91 percent of white seniors, according to statistics compiled by the district. In 1999-2000, 76 percent of American Indian seniors graduated, compared with about 97 percent of whites.
Newell has consistently voted not to approve publicly funded schools for two local Hutterite colonies. She said funding colony schools is "throwing public dollars after private education" because of the colonies' "fairly exclusive" culture and religion. She also said that, in light of tight state education budgets, it would not be prudent to open another publicly funded school.
"It is still another school asking for another piece of pie, which is already really without a lot of nutrition," Newell said. She said the district has welcomed Hutterites into its schools.
Newell said she does not agree with school board candidate Bonnie Benson's opinion that some district administrators are unresponsive to comments and complaints from the community.
"I've always found them to be responsive, and I had kids that went through the system for 12 years, 13 years," Newell said, adding that she was a parent before she joined the school board. "I think the problem is we don't always hear what we want to hear."
On the issue of whether to encourage large, more efficient schools or defend the right of parents to choose to send their children to small schools, Newell said she thinks small schools are very important to smaller communities, and that there may be alternatives to consolidation that would make those districts more efficient, like sharing teachers.
"In my opinion, a small school with one high school student is not efficient, and it's not fair for kids who are being educated in classes of 25 or 50," she said.
When asked whether creationism should be taught in Havre Public Schools during a forum for school board candidates last week, Newell said she believes in presenting both sides of the issue and allowing students to make up their own minds.
"Let's give the students as much of the whole story as we can give them objectively without a whole lot of personal opinion injected," she said.
Birthplace: Great Falls
Education: Helena High School, 1973; bachelor's degree in journalism, University of Montana, 1977.
Employment: public relations specialist, Columbus Hospital, Great Falls, 1977-1978; advertising media buyer, Richard Hork Advertising, Great Falls, 1978-1979; teller and public relations clerk, Tran-Em Federal Credit Union, Minot, N.D., 1980; freelance public relations and advertising work, 1983-1987; reporter, Havre Daily News, 1987-1990; public relations manager, Northern Montana Hospital, 1990-present.
Children: Nathan, 23, Nick, 21; both graduated from Havre High School.
Activities: Havre Education Foundation board, Healthy Communities-Healthy Youth advisory council, the Montana Actors' Theatre board and the Salvation Army board. Has served on the Havre school board since 1991.