by Beth Hutchinson
For the Pathfinder
December 3, 1998
A special presentation by the newly elected members of Seeley Lake Elementary School's student council headed the agenda for the November 9th school board meeting. Officers Paul Lewis (president), Stacey Morris (vice-president), Jamie Adams (secretary) and Tatum Hoehn (reporter) were joined by a number of class representatives and alternates, including Angel Hammond, Molly Kenny, Eric Rose and Julie Vernarsky, in explaining the purpose of the council and the specific responsibilities each had accepted.
Fourth grade teacher Gail Gordon and school counselor Toni Faranca co-sponsor the fledgling leadership/service program. "I've wanted to start one for a long time," said Gordon, "and last year seemed like a good opportunity to begin."
By providing direct experiences for students to exercise citizenship and practice purposeful leadership, Gordon believes that kids come to know that "they are the most important thing here" at SLES.
While participating in student council activities can be a heady experience for the rising politicians, they seem ever aware that they hold their power in order to do work and to promote respectful relationships within the school. President Lewis made the point that being an elected official took considerable effort. "I need to know parliamentary procedures, to lead meetings and to listen to the kids," he noted. "We still need to respect the teachers and to keep our grades up."
Vice President Morris explained that council members most importantly need to remember that they were role models. "We have to set examples for respect and doing our best," she emphasized.
Talking about what students looked for in their leaders, fifth grade representative Eric Rose said his class wanted "a well-balanced leader who would make their voices heard." One who is definitely intrigued with the mechanisms of government, Rose added that he anticipated running for president when he was old enough...and the adult listeners got the impression that that race could be in his forties as well as his teens.
Co-sponsor Fraranca pointed out that students who were not currently officers or representatives could actively serve with the student council by signing up to work on support committees. Committee work being the backbone of effective governing, the SLES student council will need help with its recycling program, talent show, dances and other efforts as the year goes along.
School board members themselves went on to illustrate the value of committees when Charlee Parker and Loren Rose reported on the research their Administrative Review Committee had completed. After realizing last spring that they did not have enough information to make a comfortable decision regarding the propriety of having a one or one and a half administration configuration for SLES, the board set a goal of gathering pertinent information by November. The Parker-Rose report documented a goal well met.
Identifying nine schools with structures (K-6 and K-8) and sizes close to those of SLES, Parker and Rose asked for data regarding their enrollments as well as the number of certified staff and support staff. They also asked for detail about the schools' administrative make-up (including job titles and duties), the number of years the current structure had been in use, previous structures and reasons for changing, perceived advantages and disadvantages of their structures, and the frequency of board evaluation of administrative needs.
While no single system replicated SLES, Parker and Rose identified enough similarities to conclude that it would be wise to at least maintain our current administrative numbers. Parker indicated, "We both felt happy with what we have. Where there was only one administrator, that person was exhausted because of all the programs and people they had to deal with."
Rose pointed out that one K-8 just a bit larger than SLES had two full-time administrators. "Where schools had a smaller number of administrators, they were driven by budgetary concerns," he said, not functional performance concerns. Rose also reported that few of the schools are evaluating the status of their administrative structure on a regular basis.
Both Parker and Rose said that they would recommend keeping the current administrative configuration for another year and then reviewing it again. "I enjoyed this research exercise," said Rose. "I feel better about what we are doing. Perhaps we can look at different schools next year."
Picking up on the value of sharing with a variety of schools, superintendent John Hebnes suggested, "Maybe we could go visit some of the schools next year."
The theme of reaching outward and interacting with other school leaders had also been noted earlier in the evening when board chair Bart Peterson and principal Shirley Johnson talked about their experiences at the National Rural Education Association convention held in Buffalo in October. Peterson and Johnson, their attendance sponsored by the Claiborne/Ortenberg Foundation, were among ten attendees from Montana at the annual gathering. Peterson was surprised by the broad definition of "rural". "We found everything from one-room schools to places with 5000 students," he said.
Johnson was excited to find that SLES "is doing basically what was recommended" by conference gurus. Networking, site-based management, collaboration, and clarifying the community image of public schools were all high on the list of "to do's". She and Hebnes had gotten together after she returned to school to brainstorm ways to make use of her findings. They have an interest in setting up some monthly theme nights, a computer night and various information nights as well as in inviting senior citizens to use school computers during study hall and recess time.
Reporting on parent-teacher conferences, Hebnes said that having them simultaneously with elections had worked well. There was a huge (800+) voter turn out, and only thirteen students were not represented by at least one parent during the conference time.
Hebnes also reported on discipline (8 pink slips) and his sense that the revised policy "was doing more of what we want, but still needs fine tuning". The key area of concern seems to be how to deal with tardiness effectively without making it a big discipline issue. Hebnes remains distressed that parents will decide to keep kids home to avoid the consequences of their being late to school. However, with last year's tardiness figures reduced by about half, he is optimistic for continued improvement.
School board members were directly impacted by the passing of CI-75 according to Hebnes. Even though few believe that it was intended to address school issues, the constitutional iniative ended up changing procedures regarding school levies. Hebnes believes, "You will need to develop incredible budgeting processes." Board members can be individually liable if all is not handled exactly right.
Covering the status of grant planning, Hebnes said that work was coming along very well regarding the Claiborne/Ortenberg grant and that the Ortenbergs were looking forward to sending board members to more inservice conferences. Progress working with George Humphries is going more slowly. Hebnes wants to get him on the agenda for December.
Principal Johnson reported that she had been involved in considerable staff development, curriculum and assessment activities, both with the staff at large and particularly with the Title I program. She commended Dave Spence for the volume and quality of work he does in developing the computer labs.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is set for 6:00pm December 8, 1998.