by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
November 6, 1997
After 36 years of teaching in Montana schools, Seeley Swan High School's business instructor, Larry Pagett, has retired.
"It was time for a change," Pagett said recently. He taught the basics of business to teenagers at Seeley Swan High School for 28 years. Already, he misses the students.
"I miss that interaction," he said, then quickly smiled. "But I still see the kids at Rovero's."
Pagett has been working at the local business since he retired from teaching this summer. His former students, who call him "Bob" (after television's home improvement specialist, Bob Villa), have told him they are taking up a collection to bring him back to the high school.
"They said they were up to $20, and wondered if I could come back," he joked.
Superintendent Kim Haines praised Pagett for his teaching abilities, and his creative talents. "We'll also miss him for what he did artistically," he said. "We were always calling on him to help with extra things."
Haines, who has been at the high school since 1964, recently praised Pagett. "He is an excellent teachervery dedicated. He has given his time to the community, and has done a good job for all the years he's been here," Haines said.
Although Pagett's focus as a teacher has been business, he is also a watercolor artist, a wood carver, and a musician. He taught art and music classes at the high school for many years, and also helped with the yearbook and the school newspaper.
His creative talents led him to become involved in most of the extracurricular activities at the school. Several years ago he started the first student choir here, and organized a small "swing choir" that later became The Black Tie Affair. That group performed for audiences in Western Montana and as far away as Colorado. He also shares his musical talents with the community. For years he was the organist at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, and he is a member of the Swan Valley Christian Singers.
When Pagett first came to Seeley Lake, his intent was to stay here for only a few years, and then move to Missoula. He now laughs at his original plans. Larry and his wife Karen, (who has worked at the Elementary School for 18 years) raised their two daughters here. Lesley and Penny are both graduates of Seeley Swan High School. After their daughters graduated, "we just seemed to adopt the next class, year after year," Larry Pagett said. Being supportive of local activities helped Pagett develop a good rapport with young people. "It lets you deal with students at a totally different level," he explained.
Pagett has seen many successful programs at Seeley Lake. He praises the Senior Priority program, and also a successful job training program at the high school during the 1970s which was dropped more than 15 years ago and never replaced.
"I'd like to see that program get going again," he said, "It's a push toward the world of work." Students today, he said, need more on-the-job experience while they are in high school, especially those students who won't need college degrees in their chosen fields.
Business courses in high schoolsand job markets have changed drastically in the past two decades. Typing that used to be done on manual, and then electric typewriters, became "keyboarding" when computers arrived in classrooms. Now those computers are "networked" and linked to schools and businesses world-wide through the Internet. Opportunities beyond Seeley Lake are mind boggling, Pagett said, and young people with good attitudes will get good jobs.
"Some kids think everyone owes them. The work ethic has kind of been lost," he said. Young people, he said, need basic skills but they also need to learn to be on the job at eight in the morning and that they are expected to stay until five. "The way to learn that is to go to work," he said.
A successful jobs program in Seeley Lake would require cooperation from school administrators, parents and business owners, he said. Schools could be more flexible, giving students credit for time spent in job training.
"Give those kids release time without punishing them for being gone," Pagett said. The jobs program at the high school in the 1970s paid students minimum wage for their work, and also gave them high school credit for the new skills they were learning.
Summer work programs were especially successful in Seeley Lake, he said, because of the timber and tourist industries here. Work experience helps students grow. But educators here have a tough job, too. Pagett believes that the hardest decision teachers make is deciding which programs will best enable students to succeed when they leave home.
"Business is changing so fast that kids need to learn it is not necessarily what you know as far as skills, but your attitude toward the whole picture that gets you the job," he said.
Educators need to respond to that, he said, by rewarding students when they show that they are learning good work habits and developing good attitudes.