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State superintendent impressed by Libby schools

| April 16, 2004 12:00 AM

By Paul Boring, Western News Reporter

Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Linda McCulloch toured the Libby schools on Tuesday, admittedly bowled over by the collective pride exuded in the district.

³It was a great day,² McCulloch said. ³We heard so much pride in the Libby schools, from Head Start level up through seniors in high school, in addition to all the teachers, staff members and administrators. It¹s been wonderful.²

McCulloch and a contingent of Office of Public Instruction staff visited each of the Libby schools while on their Yellow School Bus Tour. The tour was originally started to give the superintendent and her staff the opportunity to visit Montana schools and communities to hear firsthand the strengths and challenges facing public schools.

³It¹s not for us to come out and do any monitoring or any imparting of information,² McCulloch said. ³This is a chance for us to come out and look at the schools and see how we can better perform our jobs.²

Although the federally mandated No Child Left Behind legislation is a challenge facing Libby and other school districts, McCulloch said that each district should also focus on its respective direction and priorities.

³We have to make sure we look past No Child Left Behind and see what other things are important to us in Montana,² she said. ³We shouldn¹t just get bogged down with talking about a federal law. We also have to talk about things we want to accomplish.²

McCulloch was highly impressed by the reading program at the elementary school level. Libby was recently awarded the Reading First Grant, one of a handful of districts in the state that received the funds.

³It¹s fun to see the excitement in the whole school around the reading program,² she said. ³My love is reading. I was an elementary school librarian for 20 years. What¹s most exciting is how much the kids are talking about reading.²

Libby Superintendent Kirby Maki said the tour presented an opportunity to show the OPI staff what the local schools are all about.

³It was a matter of going around and looking at all the things we have, what we¹re working on, and what our priorities are,² Maki said. ³That also includes the facilities, the upkeep, and things that we¹ve done to try to make things better.²

Maki felt that the group responded to the optimism and pragmatism in the district in spite of the budget constraints, declining enrollment and other external barriers.

³I think that they were impressed with the fact we¹re on the right track educationally and facility-wise, regardless of the dilemmas and budget problems facing us,² he said.

For Maki, accentuating the positives in the district and not brooding on the negatives was a pleasant aspect of the tour.

³It¹s just kind of fun to show off the schools,² he said. ³I guess I¹m not one who is going to bring people around and just show them all the bad things. It¹s fun to show people around and show them the good things that are occurring. No matter what the circumstances are, we still should be doing the best job we can to teach the kids and take care of our investment.²

In the superintendent of public instruction, the school district has a conduit to the state legislature. McCulloch said that one major reason for having the tour is to give districts a chance to voice their concerns to a person in a position to make things happen.

³When I come here, I¹m the chief advocate for our schools for the legislature, so one of the things I like to make sure I do is talk to folks about not just their successes, but also their challenges,² she said.