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High School History Full Of Progress by Don E. Mittelstaedt

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High School History Full Of Progress

by Don E. Mittelstaedt.



          Probably the thing that most consistently marks Missoula County high school from other schools is the fact that, growing rapidly, it has always been squeezed for room. Even the first high school building, built on the present site, was soon inadequate. The new building was “too small before the paint was dry on the doors,” as H. L. Shapard put it at a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce years ago.

          Now, 32 years later, the situation is virtually the same. General over-crowding means that it is a matter of first come, first served in many popular courses; that many students are deprived of study periods in the building; that teachers have less opportunity to reach all students who need individual training; and that students have difficulty attaining proficiency with equipment because of limited time.

          Several times in its history has the high school been faced with the problem of insufficient space. Just when the first high school in Missoula was started is difficult to say. Probably the first classes were held in the old Willard school building, just as the University was also first located there. Exactly when or how long high school classes were held at the Willard school it is impossible to know definitely, but for a time after that, there were no classes at all.

          When Montana State University was organized and opened in the fall of 1895, it included a preparatory department to prepare students for college entrance requirements. So until it was abolished a few years later, Missoula residents sent their high school students to the University prep school. In fact, two-thirds of the 135 enrolled in Montana State University the first year were preparatory students. When the University finally dropped the prep school, the high school was reorganized in the upstairs or the Roosevelt school, eventually taking over the whole building. At that time it was known as the Missoula City high school.

          On April 7, 1906, the voters at the annual school election authorized the establishment of the Missoula County Free high school. The first principal of the county high school was M. Victor Staley, who served only the one school year, 1906-07. The faculty of the City high school was retained, for the most part, and carried over as the County high school faculty.

          J. F. Thomas was chosen principal for the following school year, 1907-08. This was the last year that the Roosevelt school housed the high school, because the original central unit of the high school had been completed by the fall of 1908 on the site of the present high school. Professor Thomas continued as principal for two years in the new building, and then Francis A. Stejer was selected for the post. Mr. Stejer was principal during the years 1910-11 and 1911-12, and in the fall of 1912, G. A. Ketcham took over the job, continuing to the present time.

          The first regular high school building, built in 1908 from the plans of Architect A. J. Gibson, had a high, hipped roof. In 1914, when they first became pinched for room, two iron stairways were installed, leading up to the attic where five rooms were fixed up for use. The home economics and the art departments were housed in the attic for a few years. The building was too small from the very beginning, but because of the great demand for it at that time, a manual training department was begun in the basement in 1911. It was transferred in 1913 to the present South Side garage which is now used by the Forest Service for trucks and automobiles. Here it stayed until the annex containing the present gymnasium, and the drafting, manual training, and farm shop department was built in 1920.


North Wing Added.

          A year or two earlier, the north wing had been added to the original unit. Although this addition, combined with the new annex, enabled the school to serve 800 students, it ruined the rooms in the north end of the attic, and consequently the use of the whole attic was discontinued. This was far the best, however, because the attic was difficult to heat in winter and a danger point in case of fire.

          Both new portions of the high school were built at a bad period, from the point of rapid construction, because of the hard times that followed the war. It was a poor time to buy steel, too, because the companies were still busy with war orders. It took two months for the order to go through and for the steel to arrive. Most of the other supplies were almost as slow in coming.

          For a number of years things went fairly well, but finally the increasing enrollment created so great a need for more space that a south wing was added to the building during the winter of 1930-1931. It was finally completed in August and was ready for use in the fall. Then, on the night of September 15, 1931, after enrollment in the new building had been completed for the new year, the building caught fire. Little was saved. The north wing, the center section, and the new south wing all were burned.

          Destroyed at the very beginning of the school year, a total loss! Supplies – equipment – books – records – everything gone! Undaunted, re-enrollment began almost immediately. Classes were held in the Roosevelt and Willard schools, in spare rooms during the afternoon at Montana State University, and in the Elk’s temple. Journalism classes were held at The Missoulian plant, and laboratory classes were held all day Saturdays at the University.

          Meanwhile, workmen removed the debris from the ruined buildings and a new high school was started. By the next fall, an entirely modern, up-to-date, well-equipped building stood ready for use. But it was almost too small, even then, for the influx of students. Eight years have passed. Fifteen hundred students were enrolled during the past year, greatly overtaxing the existing educational facilities. And now, another addition is planned. The new annex would be built upon the vacant lot directly east of the high school on Connell avenue. The entrance is planned on Gerald avenue with the addition connected to the present high school building. Besides additional class rooms, it would house a girls’ gymnasium.

          In spite of perpetually cramped quarters, Missoula County high school ranks among the first in the state. Shortly after 1912, the school adopted a progressive policy, making greater efforts to serve the students who were not preparing for college. The administration made it possible for a student to graduate from high school without mathematics, which at that time was an exceedingly radical departure from general school practice. In the early days, the high school was a strictly academic layout, serving only to prepare students for college entrance requirements.

          “The last 25 years,” said Principal G. A. Ketcham, on being questioned regarding the present liberalization, “have been marked by increased growth of independence on the part of the high school from college domination through the medium of college entrance requirements.”

          English, history, mathematics, science, Latin and music, and perhaps German and public speaking, were the courses first offered by the high school. Later came manual training, mechanical drawing, home economics, art, other foreign languages, commercial subjects, dramatics, and several social as well as physical sciences. Today, the high school offers one of the most diversified and complete courses of study that is available anywhere. From a meager beginning with a half dozen teachers, the faculty has grown to over half a hundred. The enrollment of Missoula County high school has mounted to approximately 1,500 students from its start with less than 100.



Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 16:44