We sat down with Dr. Godfrey Saunders, the super intendant of Belgrade school district, to talk about the Belgrade schools and what they have to offer for children and families in the area.
Interviewer: I was wondering if you could tell us the current state of the schools system and the direction that it is going.
Dr. Godrey: The perception, one of the things that I have learned over my years in education or in life truly. Reality is negotiable but perception is rock solid. Perception is very difficult to change through reality. In reality, we have great schools, in reality we 2 elementary schools that outperform the Bozeman schools. In reality, when we look at the states report card there are three classes that we use. Universal, targeted and comprehensive. Target and comprehensive are the two most extreme but all schools that are qualified for universal meet all the standards. All of our schools are in that universal range.
Dr. Godfrey: We had last year the only blue-ribbon elementary school in the state of Montana at Heck-Quaw. Ridgeview won a national award distinguished award for its achievement in 2014. We had a High School Biology teacher of the year this year for the State of Montana. We also have a school psychologist of the year at our middles school for the state of Montana.
You know our FFA program, our kids finish 6th nationally. Are we perfect? No, we are not, but we are meeting those challenges head on. There are some great things happening in our district, the assistance that we offer kids. We have several programs, you know the kids program that Bozeman offers, we offer that as well for our after-school program. We offer a mentor program in between our high school and middle school for our 8th graders coming in. Our graduation rate never decreased this year. You know, you look at Bozeman’s graduation rate that, well it was only slightly down, still our state went up and improved. We continue to monitor all those things.
Interviewer: How has the transition been from to Class AA?
Dr. Godfrey: We are the only school to go from class C to AA in the state of Montana (that’s a big one). That’s a huge move and there have been some growing pains. I would be the last person to say that there have not been. There have been growing pains. But we have not shied away from that.
Interviewer: Belgrade is the fastest growing school system in the state, right?
Dr. Godfrey: Right. So we looked at that, but things fluctuate. There are ebbs and flows. Especially with any kind of enrollment. But right now, I think that our schools are doing a great job for our kids. I really do. Our kids go off to universities and colleges the same as anyone else.
Dr. Godfrey: One of the things we are looking at is to increase the number of opportunities to partner with business in our community. One of our goals in the fall is to have a John Deer Academy in our school. With that, and its not for everyone, but if you have a student saying I want to learn about GPS systems, and I want to learn about diesel mechanics. I want to learn about how do I program large equipment and repair it? That partnership with that university we will be teaching their curriculum with our own trained staff. Then our students will take so many hours per week applying what they learn.
Interviewer: Is that directly with John Deer?
Dr. Godfrey: That’s directly with John Deer.
Interviewer: That’s already in the works?
Dr. Godfrey: Yes. Our goal is to increase those kinds of opportunities for our schools. One of the things we are looking at is the possibility of getting our kids to graduate with as a certified CNA. So, what kind of opportunities can we give our students that they can get in school so that when they leave they can help them choose the path they are on rather then I got to do this. You have this because you choose to not you have too.
Interviewer: So your providing some experience before they really need to decided. To give them some experience to know if that’s the path they want to go down?
Dr. Godfrey: Right. So one of the things we are looking at is that traditionally in schools seat time is equated to learning. We are trying to get rid of that entire model that seat time and learning are the same. That’s not true. How can we change that model? That means we have to think differently about how we educate, not all kids but some kids. Some kids fit that model pretty well but others you know, you know "I have all my credits to graduate. What can the school do to keep me in school? I’m not quite mature enough to want to go work but I want to explore these areas." And we are able to do that with flexible scheduling and these programs. So there are some things we are looking at there.
Interviewer: Do you guys do some AP stuff with the university?
Dr. Godrey: We have 11 ap courses and the goal is to expand that. Biology, calculus.. but we have 11. We also have duel enrollment with Gallatin College just like Bozeman does.
Interviewer: What is current enrollment looking like for the elementary schools?
Dr. Godfrey: Each one is about 460 around. The middle school is not quiet 1100. It’s probably the 2nd largest middle school in the state of Montana behind Kalispell. It’s a large middle school. The high school is just over a 1000.
Interviewer: How’s capacity on those with all these new developments going in?
Dr Godfrey: Middle school is 1300 and High school is 1300. But my guess is that 1300 is too large for us to handle. So me might need that before the 4th elementary. Because this elementary we are building now we are building for a capacity of 500 and so that could give us the leeway. Then we are going to renovate Heck-Quaw and we can use that as a small elementary for about 200 but that means that they wouldn’t have to cross the road like they have had to do in the past. Which is a huge concern to us. Because they cross that busy road, over the course of a year about 65000 times a year.
Interviewer: You used to be the principle at Bozeman high school right?
Dr Godfrey: Yup. It’s a extremely good school system. But I also believe that Belgrade been shouted out and that they get a great education here as well.
Interviewer: What would you say is the value statement is for Belgrade Schools?
Dr. Godfrey: What I love about Belgrade, we take our word is our bond and we mean it. It’s still a place where a handshake is still worth more then a signature.
Ill tell you a story. I was talking with one of our bus drivers. His daughter is gong to school in Pennsylvania and he said “you know my daughter never earned an A in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t because she wasn’t smart enough. She didn’t think anyone cared. She came here and it was the first time she earned an A and she could have graduated early but she wants to stay in school because she became a person. Because she belonged and people cared and the teachers cared. Kids still have names here not numbers.
We educate kids first and content second. That’s the bottom line. We teach kids not content. We teach kids content and not content to kids. There is a big difference between that. That’s our priority.
Dr. Godfrey: Our goal is the be the #1 school district in the state of Montana in four years. We are going to be the best school district we can be in 4 years. First we will be the best and then we will lead the best. And we are working towards it every single day. We might fail some but we are going to cowboy up and move forward.
Interviewer: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
Dr. Godfrey: Thank you