Havre school board looking at letting younger children in kindergarten


November 13, 2019

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Fifth grader Kaylee Rider, 10, gets up in front of the Havre School Board Tuesday to tell them she feels very prepared for middle school thanks to her experience at Sunnyside Intermediate School during the Havre School Board meeting in the Havre Middle School Assembly.

The Havre Public School Board voted to approve a number of policies introduced by Havre Public Schools District Superintendent Andy Carlson on first reading during its monthly meeting Tuesday.

"This paves the way for us to potentially address several of our ongoing (targets) at Havre High," Carlson said, saying it could allow students in high-risk groups to start earlier and increase their chance of graduation.

The policies are not in force until they are approved on a second reading, planned at the next school board meeting

Carlson said in an interview after the meeting that two of the new policies he introduced at the meeting are to allow potential students, ages 3 to 5, to enroll in kindergarten classes and potentially allow the school to receive funding for the students. He added that the school district already serves a few students within that age range under exceptional circumstances, judged by testing and IQ scores, but does not receive any funding to support those students.

The policies also broaden the capability of the school district, he said, with two allowing students in exceptional circumstances, such as children in poverty, who are homeless or who are enrolled members of a federally recognized Native American Tribe, to start school at an earlier age, he said.

He added that the school district has targeted raising the graduation rate of Native American students and students living in poverty, and students in those categories may potentially be able to start school at a younger age, which may increase the graduation rates for those students.

"That's what this is really about, putting something in place so maybe, down the road, we can do something like that," he said. " ... "This is talking about an actual kindergarten class. We would treat them like we would treat any other child."

The policy is supported by the Montana Legislature, but in order for it to be put into place the policies have to be approved by the board of trustees, Carlson said.

He added that the program is not a preschool or pre-kindergarten program. Under the board's observation of the students' educational growth, students can potentially go from kindergarten to first grade at a younger age.

"We are talking about bringing students in and providing kindergarten type classes for them," he said.

The policies include a provision that every student needs to be approved by the board of trustees to be accepted in the program.

Carlson also proposed making some changes to a district policy which would make it mandatory for students who are younger than 5 by Sept. 10 to be approved by the board before they can start kindergarten. He said it also adds a sentence regarding homelessness, issues or concerns, making it required that documents of homeless students be reviewed by the superintendent.

He also introduced a change to a district policy on club finances. He said the change would require a written statement from anyone who is a member of a club acknowledging the club will adhere to the policies and procedures set by the board. It also includes that the finances of school clubs need to have an account number and budget.

"I think that's kind of a safety guard that will make sure that any of our clubs or activities, that they are understanding right from the beginning that they have to follow everything (the board) has in place," he said.

The policy also states that informal or unrecognized school clubs can meet on school property but have to follow the district policies, he added.

He said that it is important because the district's auditors will be looking for the accounts for the school clubs to be properlybalanced. The clubs will have to follow the same accounting and monitoring as the general fund.

Havre Public Schools District Clerk Shanna Flores said that the clubs and activities funding is currently tracked within the district's software system but not as strictly as they need to be.

Carlson added that they have also had success with the Tobacco Free District, but at the same time the school is constantly facing new challenges, such as vaping.

"It's probably better just to spell it out, and so really this is about making sure that we are covering our bases with it," he said.

He said the policy will also now include a segment regarding adult staff members who use tobacco products. He added that if the staff member wants to quit using tobacco products the policy will allow the principle to work with the individual to help them quit.

"We would rather have them quit using than to be a hindrance simply because we are tobacco free," he said. "... We want to help encourage people, if they're going to that step, to quit."

The board voted on the policies in a block, and passed the the changes 6-to-1 with board member Ed Hill saying he opposed the policy regarding enrolling students at a younger age in kindergarten.

Sunnyside Intermediate School Principal Carmen Lunak addressed the board about what Sunnyside has been doing with a number of programs and student engagement.

She was joined by fourth grade student Hailey Gandenberger and fifth grade student Kaylee Rider.

Lunak said that through the year she has been pulling focus groups from different fourth and fifth grade classes to get the students' feedback on some of the newer programs the school has implemented in the past year. She added that she also got the student council involved to hear their feedback on how their educational experiences have been.

Gandenberger was one of the students from the focus group, Lunak said, adding that Gandenberger expressed that she had learned a great deal of vocabulary for science, social studies and reading. Gandenberger also said she enjoyed the hands-on science programs at the school involving the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Program, better known as STEM.

Lunak said that Gandenberger also told her that math was a tougher subject for her, as well as for a number of the other students. Lunak said that Sunnyside is working with paraprofessionals to help students get a better grasp on the subject.

Rider, who is also a member of the student council, said that she liked the Walk to Math program. It is a good way for her to learn mathematics while also preparing for the sixth grade and middle school, she said.

Lunak added that the school has also a number of behavioral programs, to help raise awareness to students of what good behavior is and recognize students for jobs well done. The program also shows students that they can learn from their mistakes. 

"I appreciate that this came from within our staff," she said.

Havre High School Vice Principal Pax Haslem said that Havre High School recently received the ACT scores for this year. He said that in the past five years Havre High School has had fairly consistent test scores, while the state has seen a drop between 0.4 and 0.7 in test scores. He added that the school had one perfect score, with a student scoring a 36 on the ACT, and two other students who scored 30 and 31. The high school's average score was 19.6, while the state average was 19.4.

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Havre Public Schools Superintendent Andy Carlson listens to board members discuss policies Tuesday during the Havre School Board meeting in the Havre Middle School Assembly Room.


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