Alan Sorensen Havre Daily News email@example.com
The state superintendent of schools and nine of her staff experienced small school Montana Tuesday when their Yellow School Bus Tour visited Rudyard and Gildford. The 10 officials from the state Office of Public Instruction split into two groups after having breakfast in North Star High School in Rudyard with one group staying in Rudyard and the other heading to North Star Elementary School in Gildford. After dining on wild rice and curry soup prepared by the culinary arts class at the high school, the groups alternated schools. At the end of the school day, the two groups gathered in the elementary school’s cafeteria in Gildford to meet with faculty and community members. “It’s been a great day,” said N o r t h S t a r S c h o o l s Superintendent Terry Grant, who then introduced McCulloch and turned the meeting over to her. “We’ve done about 6,000 miles of bus tours so people in our office can get out and see what is going on in schools,” McCulloch said. “I tell them when we get off the bus that this trip is not to monitor (the school), you’re here to learn.” McCulloch said she chose to visit North Star because Grant had extended an invitation. “Terry said, We’d like you to come,’” she said, adding that she thought it was a good idea because of the recent consolidation of KG and Blue Sky serving the four Hi-Line towns of Kremlin, Gildford, Hingham And Rudyard. She stressed, though, that OPI is not concerned with consolidation, that is a decision that is made either at the local level or the legislative. The tour Tuesday covered every grade from Head Start through 12. “The first time we did a Yellow Bus Tour, (people at the school) were very cautious,” fearing they may have done something wrong to warrant the trip, McCulloch said. “The next day at the next school, they said, They called and said you’re OK, come on in.’” The first question came from North Star School Board member Terry Hybner, who asked for guidance in implementing Indian Education for All curriculum. “I wonder if you could give me the big picture,” he said. “It seems to be moving so slowly.” McCulloch explained that while Indian Education for All was mandated in the 1972 constitution it went unfunded until the 2005 Legislature budgeted money for OPI. The 2007 Legislature expanded the program by budgeting money for school districts. McCulloch said teacher conferences were held in the beginning, but the teachers still had the onus of returning to their schools and developing their own curriculum. Teachers had the additional concern of developing a curriculum in a state that has seven Indian reservations, 12 tribes and one landless tribe. “Each tribe is different,” she said. She said tribal leaders from around the state were asked how to proceed and they responded: “We have to be cautious. We have to have good materials because we don’t know if we’ll get that funding again.” Her office then began developing materials for schools and policies for getting it out. “Everything we produce would be free people can check out videos and materials and (it would be available) also on the Web site,” she said. McCulloch said she was a little surprised at the response to the program. “There are districts in the state that don’t have any Native American students and they are embracing this and want to lead on this,” she said. Mike Jetty of OPI’s Indian Education Division said an infusion entry point is crucial to Indian Education for All. “Blend it in to what you’re doing now,” he said. “We’ve got (it) embedded in our conscious now.” Jetty said tribes around the state were asked to in 1999 to provide an essential understand in which they provide information about where they originated. He said it was necessary in developing the curriculum to ensure that it was teacher-friendly, traditionally accurate and age-group appropriate. A North Star teacher asked why Montana’s colleges and universities aren’t incorporating American Indian Education for all in their curricula. McCulloch said she held a conference with university system schools and tribal colleges last spring to get the ball rollling. “They need to see a model and we’re providing that,” she said. Grant asked about the No Child Left Behind and the adequate yearly progress reports that determine how schools are doing in meeting federal requirements. McCulloch said OPI has staff who go to schools that are failing in Annual Yearly Progress and helping them with recommendations to improve. They don’t go in with a “sledge hammer,” she said. She said she disagrees with the requirement that schools reach the 100 percent proficiency level by 2013 and 2014 and has said so with letters to federal agencies. “If your school does 99 percent improvement you’ll fail as a school,” she said. “It’s difficult for the really good schools, too, getting that last 9 percent up to proficient.” She also has little patience with the government’s demand that forms be filled out immediately. “I was very irate that everything is hurry up, hurry up and wait,” she said. “They sent a report out on Tuesday and wanted it back by Friday.” She said those demands are particularly hard on small schools whose staff may have to work weekends to complete forms that can be 400 pages long. Another teacher asked about the plan to redesign high schools. “We brought Montanans together to ask what high schools should look like,” McCulloch said. “First of all, we don’t have the funding for it. We’re taking our time on it let people around the state take a look at it and make comments.” Bud Williams, deputy superintendent of public schools, said it is not OPI’s job to tell high schools what they should do. He noted that Wyoming has spent $1 billion redesigning its high schools and offers teachers salaries much higher than those in Montana. “Wyoming is stealing many of our teachers and administrators,” he said. “You can look at math and science, but who’s going to teach those courses.” He said the Montana university system is raising its entry requirements, meaning that fewer teachers can be expected in the future. Students who don’t complete college prep programs don’t get in and the age requirement for entry of nontraditional students is going up to 21. He added that essays are now a major criterion for admission. “It’s harder for students to get in,” he said. McCulloch said it is incumbent on high schools and parents to push their students to complete preparatory programs. “There is a difference between requiring schools to add rigorous courses and encouraging students to take rigorous courses that are already offered,” he said. “Make sure students tap into subjects that will make them better prepared if they are college-bound. For parents, it’s important to understand what will make your child successful in college.” Williams agreed. “Encourage kids to take math and science.” As they were about to load the bus for stops today in Chester/J-I and tomorrow i n Conrad, McCulloch asked that one thing be made clear the bus the group is riding in is a standard school bus with no amenities and hard, plastic seats.