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Great Growth Is Shown By City's Grade Schools by Sylvia M. Haight

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Great Growth Is Shown By City’s Grade Schools


By Sylvia M. Haight

          From the small school conducted in one room of a building standing at the corner of Higgins and Front streets, and taught by Mrs. W. H. H. Dickinson of 1869, 1870 and 1871, has grown Missoula’s present school system embracing 10 fine schools attended by more than 2,700 children, and employing 83 teachers.

          During almost three-quarters of a century Missoula schools have made a constant search for the best aims and methods in education. These years have seen a retention of ideals expressed by the founders of the first school, the adoption of new objectives, the outmoding and discarding of methods and tools.

          Among early recommendations, adopted in 1888, is one requiring first-grade pupils “to bring their lessons to the class neatly written on their slates.” The subjects to be studied the first year included reading, language, writing, numbers, drawing, music and science. Since the first course of study for the state was not issued until 11 years later, in 1899, the course outlined for the beginners probably represented the opinion of the teachers, principal and board members.

          “All pupils shall be truthful, honest, cleanly in person, chaste in language, prompt in obedience, diligent in study, polite in conduct, respectful to teachers, and kind and obliging to classmates,” says Article VII, of the Rules and Regulations of 1888. Children of 1940 observe the same ideals, and are further asked to be punctual, orderly, “regular in attendance and to conform to all rules and regulations of the school.”


Early Regulations

          “It shall require an average grade of 65 in the primary department, 70 in the intermediate, 75 in the grammar, and 80 in the high school for promotion,” according to Article I of the same regulations. In a few years nationally-known educators condemned such arbitrary standards for promotion, and approved the trend toward measurement of a child’s progress in the light of his individual ability. Reflecting this trend, Missoula schools experimented with a plan that allowed groups of varying ability to progress at different rates, and at the present time they stress individual improvement that gives each child the sense of personal achievement.

          Percentage grading, which had been used throughout the nation for many years, was considered by educators as inaccurate, inadequate, and unfair. The city schools discontinued its use, and substituted grades by letter. An A represented excellent work, an E or F denoted failing work. This method of grading was replaced by a system of satisfactory and unsatisfactory marks, since teachers believed that children either progressed satisfactorily or did not. Parents, however, did not like the change, and the matter was finally settled by means of a questionnaire which revealed a preference for the letter system of grading. This system was reestablished and is now in use.

          As an indication of the changes in the physical plant, the heating of the schools furnishes interesting times. In 1888 it was recommended that “The janitor shall keep the heating apparatus in good condition and supply the rooms with fuel and build the fires.” The janitor also kept “the lower hall properly warmed,” and saw that the children ate their lunches there. The minutes of October 12, 1894, read, “On motion the bid of the Missoula Fuel company to furnish 125 cords of timber at $2.75 per cord was accepted.” The purchase of wood for use during the school year of 1939-40, according to Clerk H. C. Carnall, was limited to three loads for the Hawthorne school, where fires must be kindled. Installation of stokers in the other buildings has made the use of wood almost unnecessary, and has reduced the fuel bill per student considerably. However, during depression years as many as 100 cords of wood were bought to help individuals obtain work. In 1939 the fuel to heat 10 school buildings cost $5,683.97.

          According to data from the clerk’s office, school district No 1 was organized in Missoula county, and boundaries were fixed November 19, 1890, under the territorial law of Montana of 1874. It has an area of 79 ½ square miles, and the population is above 23,000. The area of the city of Missoula is four and one-half square miles, and the population is slightly more than 18,000.

          From the beginning Missoula citizens were generous in their support of schools. On Saturday, June 30, 1894, when a special election was held for the purpose of voting a bond issue, 16 votes were cast, all of them in favor of the bond issue. A special tax to make the completion of the Willard school possible was voted on in January, 1895, when 377 votes were cast, 370 for the special tax and seven against it. In the same year the building was offered to the state rent free for use of the University, which opened on September 5, 1895, with 135 students.

          The continuous growth of the city and the school population has required an active building program. In 1919, the Whittier, Roosevelt, and Willard buildings were overcrowded. Within a year or so, these three schools were rebuilt, and the Paxson was erected to serve the rapidly growing section southwest of the University. The new Central building was erected in 1935 with WPA assistance.


The Superintendents

          J. M. Hamilton*, first city superintendent of schools, held that office from 1889 – 1901. He was also the first principal of the high school, and from 1891 to 1895 taught all the high school classes in the old Willard building. The second superintendent was Roscoe Begli, who was succeeded in 1902 by J. G. McKay. In 1906, J. U. Williams, who had been a teacher in the city system, became superintendent and continued at the head of the schools until 1918. He was followed by Ira B. Fee, the present superintendent. H. C. Carnall has been clerk of district No. 1 since 1912.

          “Since 1920, not a single school warrant of Missoula’s district No. 1 has been registered, the school having been run on a cash basis through the ups and downs of depression and recovery cycles.” That, in the opinion of Superintendent Fee, is one of the two outstanding school accomplishments of which patrons may be especially proud.

          “We are also proud of the progress of the children, not in mastery of facts alone, but in their social relationships with each other. The shift has been away from technical requirements in subject matter to a recognition of the importance of the social powers the child must develop in order to cope with conditions as he finds them. The grade a child makes is not everything. He must be resourceful and cooperative to get along in and out of school. We try to give each pupil a sense of accomplishment, of having achieved something, for that feeling of satisfaction is a great stimulus to the pupil to further achievement.”

          Incidentally, Mr. Fee believes that teachers are on their mettle when they strive for the personal development of each child as far as his abilities will allow. This individualized instruction and development requires a more resourceful type of leadership than teaching from texts only. Use of standard testing in the schools shows that a high degree of mastery of material has been maintained, although personal and social development has been emphasized.


Budget Requires Economics

          In 1918 the taxable valuation of district No. 1 was about $9,000,000, which represents approximately 30 per cent of the assessed valuation. The lowest point was reached in 1934, when taxable valuation dropped to $7,870,150. How the schools were to carry on in the face of greatly lowered valuations and increased tax delinquency represented a problem that was not easily solved. At the same time, enrollments in the grade schools increased from 2,241 in 1920, to 2,793 in 1937, the peak year.

          It was during this time that the schools began the policy of absorbing their special supervisors into the regular teaching force. Some teachers were forced to find employment in other systems, and some of those who left Missoula at that time were rehired later. During 1939-40 the schools have had no supervisors of special subjects, the board having hired teachers so that within each building instructors are qualified to teach art, music, physical education, or other special subjects.

          The teaching staff had 10 fewer teachers in 1925 than in 1920, although attendance had increased by about 250. This meant an increase in the number of pupils per teacher, the teacher load rising as the per capita pupil-cost of instruction. In 1930 the average number of pupils per teacher was 29.8, and the per capita pupil-cost of instruction was $86.09. In 1936, each teacher had an average of 34.9 pupils, while the per capita cost fell to $67.20. The present trend is toward a slightly lower teacher load, and a somewhat higher per capita cost for teaching each child.


Business of Schools

          The offices of the city schools, located in the Central building, present a bustling appearance when the supplies for the year arrive. An estimate of supplies needed for the entire year is submitted by each principal, along with an inventory of supplies on hand. The order for the whole system is made up by H. C. Carnall, who is guided by more than 25 years’ experience as clerk. The supplies are bought by bid. Before the opening of school each fall, the amounts apportioned to the different buildings are sent out by truck load.

          Ink, - black, red, purple, India, and mimeograph, - and paper, - carbon, drawing, mimeograph, music, penmanship, squared, primary, typing, and still other kinds, - form a large part of the supplies. The lists also include several kinds of envelopes, chalk, crayons, erasers, glue, gold stars, ink wells, book cards, book pockets, maps, mending tissue, stencils, paints, paint brushes, paste, paste jars, pens, penholders, pencils, pencil sharpeners, pins, rubber bands, rulers, thumbtacks, yard-sticks, flash cards, blocks, plasticine, printed forms and numerous special supplies.

          Library books are one of the most interesting purchases. Talking books for the lower grades come carefully wrapped, and contain a phonograph record in a specially designed pocket. Each of the 10 schools has its own library and together have around 8,000 volumes. Nearly a thousand books were added to the library in 1939, at a cost of $1,300.

          It takes close to $200,000 annually to run the 10 schools of district No. 1. Current and delinquent tax collections bring in about $70,000. County apportionments amount to about $85,000. State apportionments aggregate $36,000 or more, and nearly $1,000 is received by transfer from districts Nos. 8 and 38. Clerk’s collections and refunds amount to about $1,000, and apportionment of fines for 1938-39 amounted to more than $700. From all sources for 1938-39, $262,509.83 was available, the amounts including a substantial balance from the preceding year.

          Disbursements for the same year show that instructional costs, totaling $139,905, account for the largest single outlay. Other items include general control, $5,781.56; operation of plant, $26,791.43; maintenance of plant, $6,274.12; fixed charges, $11,475.88; capital outlay, $243.40; and auxiliary agencies $3,423.35. Total disbursements were $193,895.23.


*A good biography of Dr. J. M. Hamilton appears in his book, “From Wilderness to Statehood: A History of Montana”, edited by Merrill Burlingame, 1957. Dr. Hamilton's Montana teaching career began in Missoula where he also served as Superintendent of schools, beginning in 1889. The forward to Dr. Hamilton's book, by A.L. Strand, says he was elected president of the Montana State Teachers Association in 1892, and went on to advocate for the present system of divided University units. After teaching at the University in Missoula, where he also became vice president, he moved to Bozeman in 1904, where “he accepted presidency of the Agricultural College." Resigning his presidency there in 1919, he then stayed as a full professor and Dean of men until his death in 1940. Strand stated, “he loved people, and, was therefore, greatly loved.

Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 16:45