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Havre schools put emphasis on academics


March 13, 2002

By September, fourth- and fifth-graders at Sunnyside Intermediate School may find themselves sitting in class an additional 10 to 20 minutes a day.

That's 50 to 100 minutes of extra learning a week, and just one of the "education enhancements" Havre Public Schools Superintendent Kirk Miller presented to the Havre school board Tuesday night.

"We believe we need to look critically at each student's day and how it's spent. There are academic things that need to be done down to the kindergarten," Miller told the board.

The school board will vote on which enhancements, if any, to adopt at its April 9 meeting.

"It might be a couple of these, it might be five, it might be all of them," Miller said. "There's something that can always be improved. I'm taking an optimistic approach."

School board chairman Jim Heberly said today that all of the proposed enhancements will likely be approved.

"It looks to me there isn't anything controversial on there. It's actually a lot more positive plan than we've had to make in the last few years," Heberly said. "We don't have to cut as much from the budget as we have in the past."

Miller said he drafted the enhancements over the past year, based on the needs and wants of the district. The district advisory council, which represents every teacher and building in Havre Public Schools, is in the process of briefing staff members of the potential enhancements.

Other possible improvements for the 2002-03 school year could include reducing the size of third-grade classes, instituting a full-day or alternate-day kindergarten, and eliminating the fourth-grade swimming program during the school day to allow more time for academics.

The district would ultimately like to reduce class size at every level, but, Miller said, third grade is the logical place to start.

According to district standards, the maximum students allowed per class at the K-5 level is 28. The average kindergarten, first- and second-grade class has 20 kids, Miller said. The average third-grade class has 27. Miller would like to see that number drop to 20 as well.

As for eliminating the fourth-grade swim program, Miller said, the intention again is to afford kids more time to learn.

"We teach every kid to swim in the fourth grade. The amount of time we spend doing that one single task could be used for English or math or science," Miller said.

"I believe we need to focus," he added. "I don't think there's anybody in our community who would argue with that."

The community, Miller pointed out, is one that's ever-changing. The district, he said, has a turnover rate of 20 percent each year.

"In the world of public education, we need to make sure we're providing opportunities to the clients we work with and that's the kids," Miller said.

Education enhancements, he said, enable the district to establish consistency.

"I hope people will understand it's not to pinpoint programs. It's to allow more time for our district to focus on academics," Miller said. "I believe our parents will support that."


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