By Alan Sorensen
One thing has remained constant in Havre and Hill County since the turn of the last century: Education is a priority and schools continue to be the centers of their communities.
The 80 or so little one-room country schools that dotted the Hill County countryside over the years drew their families together. So, too, do the consolidations that reduced the Hi-Lines six high-school-based farm communities to three districts during the past 30 years.
Havre Superintendent of Schools Kirk Miller established a theme for this year that coincides with the districts immediate and long-term futures: Entering the New Millennium: Providing Excellent Opportunities for Children.
The districts vision statement is: Montana needs young people who can acquire, analyze, and apply information, so as to think creatively and solve problems.
The mission statement is the trustees commitment to meeting the vision:
The Havre Board of Trustees accepts the challenge to provide the environment and the guidance needed to nurture a generation of enthusiastic lifelong learners possessing the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive in and contribute to the world they will inherit.
The community of Havre Public Schools must work each day to help our young people question, invent, anticipate, and dream so that they will be prepared to make a living, make a life, and make a difference.
The 1999-00 statements remain remarkably similar to a statement of progress from the first half of this century:
Of the phenomenal things about Havre, none are more reliable than its transition from a cow town on the Bull Hook, rendezvous of Indians, cowboys, soldiers, traders, construction gangs and adventurers, to one of the most important educational centers in Montana a far cry from the one-room school, with practically no marks of a school except the name, above the Gem Restaurant in 1893, to the modern public school system.
Progress Edition, The Havre Daily News, March 26, 1937.
The three Rs reading, writing and arithmetic are the staple of education in north central Montana, just as they were when the first class met in Havre about 106 years ago.
The slates are gone, and even paper and pen dont have the same power they had just a generation ago. But the bottom line remains the same as it was when Havres first school was constructed in the 1890s preparing students for responsible adulthood and success.
What has changed since the first Washington School was erected facing Third Street on the block where the post office now stands are the tools that are used for teaching and learning those three Rs.
Sure, the world map has changed dozens upon dozens of times since the beginning of the 20th century. And yes, medicine, science and technology have advanced in quantum leaps.
The day of the circuit teacher who rides from tiny settlement to tiny settlement and lives with host families on isolated farms is gone. Coal and wood stoves have been replaced by energy-efficient furnaces and running water has made outhouses obsolete.
Now academic, athletic, and speech teams and bands and choirs, unlike their ancestors who were limited to competitions with the nearest schools, can travel the states vast distances in a matter of hours.
A bonus for the students of Hill Countys small schools, even Havre High, is the opportunity each has to participate in nearly any activity he or she desires.
Nearly every school has incorporated the latest technology into its classrooms, including computer training, Internet access, and interactive telecommunication courses. But the rural atmosphere in each community, including Havre, affords students the opportunity to pursue training in a variety of agriculture-based programs and fields.
Havre Highs vocational, industrial arts, and automotive programs provide popular and productive courses, as does the FFA class offered over interactive TV.
Many of the schools in the county, including Havre High and S.U.N.S. offer school-to-work curricula that utilizes the cooperation of area businesses.
And students still have the opportunity to join in nearly any extra-curricular activity.
Education in Havre began as a one-room class in the upstairs room of a Third Avenue business across Second Second from where the Atrium now stands. The year was 1893.
Within a year, the people of Havre constructed their first school building on the slot where the post office parking lot now stands.
Hill County had as many as 84 school districts over the years. Today it has eight and a half elementary districts and five and a half high school districts. The half districts are created by J-I Schools that serve Joplin in Liberty County and Inverness in Hill.
There were 267 teachers in the countys public schools last spring, excluding J-I. Additional support staff includes specialists, administrators, clerks, secretaries, aides, tutors, and health, food service, bus, and maintenance personnel.
The county also has four private elementary schools and several home school children.
The total number of school children kindergarten through grade 12 in Hill County is 3,519, excluding the county students at J-I.
Hill County Superintendents of Public Schools since the county was chartered in 1912 were Sarah McHale, Laura G. Lovett, Elizabeth Ireland, Helen Brown, Margaret Harris McMahon, Marion Bainbridge, Lucille Bulman, Wilbur Swenson, Opal Sherle, Gladys Smith, Beatrice Campbell, Elinor Collins, and Shirley Isbell.
The Hi-Lines Class C high school teams before the consolidations began were the Kremlin Foxes, Gildford Broncs, Hingham Rangers, Rudyard Panthers, Inverness Cardinals, and Joplin Bulldogs. Box Elder Bears were Class C even in the days when Big Sandy and Chester were Class B schools, along with Havre Central High. The consolidations ended up with the KG KouGars, Blue Sky Eagles, and J-I Rams. Now Rocky Boy High School has been added to the mix, and J-I has been moved to a different district.
Wilbur Swenson is a product of Flaxville Public Schools and Northern Montana College. As Havre Junior High School principal from 1952 through 79 (27 years) and Hill County Superintendent of Schools from January through July 1951, Swenson was privy to many of the advances in areas school districts.
Too many (changes) to name and a little fast for a man of my caliber and speed, Swenson said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
One change, he said, was the increase in home schooled students, something that was largely unheard of in his day. He also cited the use of technological advances as they arrived: radio, TV, etc.
We were beginning with computers when I left, he said of his principal position. As a matter of fact, one of the people we had was Jack Brandon. Id stop in and watch the marvelous things he and his students would do.
Movie and overhead projectors, the precursors of today]s video tapes and computer cameras, also gained wide use during Swensons tenure.
There was a lot of use of the overhead projector, and (we) even had a lot of English teachers who were using overhead projectors, Swenson said. We had it so every classroom had one or could obtain one very readily.
Todays county superintendent, Shirley Isbell, has been on the job since July 1, 1985, and has seen numerous changes in just the last 15 years.
The biggest change of course, is the way in which budgets are put together and how the accountability is maintained, Isbell said. I think another big issue is that people are becoming more aware of what is going on in their schools. They seem to know more and care more than about 15 years ago, and its not only sports anymore, and I think that is a very positive change.
She said sexual harassment and violence issues have caused schools to consider seriously how to maintain safe learning environments.
When I started, I had two home-schoolers, Isbell said. There are 65 registered home schools,and that doesnt include the private schools. Generally, there are two to three students per family, so that is about 200 students.
The heart of education in north central Montana, with little argument, is Montana State University-Northern.
Assinniboine School, subsequently named Northern Montana School before its opening in 1929, was renamed Northern Montana College in 1931. The introduction of legislative intended to close the college in 1933 was met with widespread public opposition along the northern tier of the state and the school continued to grow.
Classes during the early years were held in the west wing of Havre High School and the college library was in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church.
The school has grown in sudden spurts throughout the years to become one of the more picturesque campuses in the state.
Now a branch of Montana State University, Northern continues to produce high-quality primary and secondary teachers and technology professionals.
Gail Reynolds of the Northern Career Center said results from a survey of 1997 graduates indicated that 96 percent of the graduates were employed or engaged in activities of their choice. The average salary for associate degree recipients employed in their chosen field was $24,275. The average salary for bachelor degree recipients employed in their chosen field was $26,856.
The majority of the graduates stayed in state, with 81 percent working in Montana and only 19 percent going out of state for employment.
MSU-Northern Chancellor Mike Rao said he has a plan laid out to ensure the continued quality of education at Northern that involves four major areas that each contain subcomponents.
One is to lead in the development of economic- and community-building opportunities for a region with an economy and labor market in transition, Dr. Rao said. One major goal is to significantly increase grants and sponsored-scholarship volume in a 5-year period. Another is to develop community and business partnerships that will create employment opportunities in Havre and along the Hi-line.
The other component is continuing our investment on program offerings in Great Falls and Lewistown, in addition to Havre.
The second major item, Rao said, is to strengthen excellence in long-standing program offerings. That includes two major goals:
Achievement of national accreditation status in teacher education and engineering technology programs.
Continue with the implementation of student services excellence program.
The third major item is to identify new program opportunities for the Havre campus, he said, and, basically, my goal is just focus on utilizing needs assessment to identify the program areas that interest students most.
The fourth area is to stabilize enrollment with modest growth, Rao said. Were basically looking to remain relatively small, but to better utilize a fairly large campus with under-utilized resources.
He said the school also has some role in economic development.
I would like to actually see MSU-Northern be part of the lure for a light manufacturer, he said.
He stressed that manufacturing now is very technological and, in many areas, is very robotic. That, he said, should provide Northerns technical graduates with opportunities to work in the changing manufacturing environment.
Youve really got to be a team player, he said. Workers must be in a position where they can use computerized technology, read well, write well, and, probably just as important, communicate effectively with workers at all levels. Workers of tomorrow must be able to talk as effortlessly with a company vice president as with a co-worker on an assembly line.
Even the lowest level of employee, with hopefully a high salary, should be able to take information and communicate it with everyone in the business, Rao said.
Just as importantly, Rao said, is a Northern graduates ability to fit positively into the community.
For a company to be successful in Havre, we would like to see any graduate of ours be a contributing member of the community , Rao said, shape him as a citizen of this area.
What employers want today are well-rounded people, Rao said, not just technological whizzes.
The nature of work has changed dramatically, he said. (Employees) all have to be able to write, read, compute, calculate be people who are thinkers and can critically analyze information and make sense out of it with other team members. They have to be able to work together.
Another goal is that graduates provide products or services that improve life. They should have the desire to be the best.
Rao suggested that Havre has several qualities that make it an attractive, wonderful place to bring a company. He said weather shouldnt be any detriment to light manufacturing or a service industry such as coupon centers and telemarketing firms.
He would urge businesses to make the best of the university in a small town of very well-educated people.
Our competitor for Havre isnt Chester, Rao said. It is every other country out there that is capable of producing a product for the lowest possible price.