Should we close Great Falls High?
The banner headline of Sunday’s Great Falls Tribune made it clear: Great Falls High needs $58 million in renovations to keep the building up to code and handle projected enrollment–and that’s just one of Great Falls Public Schools’ two dozen operational buildings (abandoned buildings aren’t included). Improving safety, technology and accessibility to GFPS’ existing buildings adds another $30 million to the taxpayer’s tab.
Without building fund allotments, we spend over $6,000 per student for the 10,500 students enrolled in our K-12 public education system.
Building additions, shuffling structures, or constructing entire new schools could cost up to $150 million, according to the Tribune.
Which buildings should be closed? Which buildings should be renovated? Which should be converted to other uses or sold?
City Commissioner Bob Kelly commended the board for “thinking outside the box” when it comes to school buildings. In fact, we are crawling all over the box without asking those people, who spend the majority of their formative years inside. Someone needs to open the box and ask the students what they think is best.
Don’t tell me they’re too young to know. A group of second graders might have a better grasp on human needs than a committee of vested adults.
Do we need to keep thirty kids in desks, facing a teacher until the bell rings, when the subject changes from history to math? Real life in the 21st century looks nothing like this. Students know the system is bogus. They play along because they think they have no choice.
A crisis is a choice. It’s an opportunity for innovation. Our district’s anticipated high school enrollment increase could be defused by progressive education programs: independent studies, apprenticeship, distance learning, online courses, volunteering, and community-as-laboratory all come to mind. These innovations upset everyone with skin in the game–except the students, who would probably be stoked at more hands-on options.
Do we want one of the most beautiful buildings in Great Falls to be morphed by a nip inside here and a tuck outside there, into (forgive me) an architectural Joan Rivers? What kind of innovative use can we find for Great Falls High’s original building? Sad as it may be, if we can’t find a use or a buyer, our precious kids are more important than any building…
We need our kids to be safe, but we are prioritizing bricks and mortar before brains and moxie. The decision tree begins with school administrators, then local and state governments, taxpayers, contractors, unions, teachers, and parents. The true hierarchy of education should be STUDENT FIRST, parent next, then teacher. Taxpayers, administrators and unions, legislators and contractors should follow the will of the first three. Sure, some participants in every level don’t care.
If we give kids more real control, we might be impressed with what happens.
Ask fourth graders what’s important to them. Talk with a ninth grader and see how she communicates and relates to the world. Graduating seniors should sit down with school board members, while their high school years are fresh in their minds.
Contact a cross-section of GFHS grads, five years and ten years out of high school, ask them what’s been valuable, what could have helped them in their adult lives, and what was a waste of time.
I’ll bet we would be talking about building problems in an entirely more innovative way.
We don’t want to float a bond issue to build our trustee’s vision of what they think 21st century buildings should look like. If we do that–much sooner than we want–we’ll be shuffling buildings and screaming for funding again.
Without being condescending, we need to trust the product of the education we are providing: has anyone asked the kids?
–Claire Baiz, GFHS Class of 1975
Molotov Cocktail is a respected, incendiary journal of flash fiction. I’m honored that my short story, Brothers in Fryin’, was selected for their latest edition.
Click the link to read (it’s short–under 500 words):
Philomena is the perfect Catholic film for atheists. Or maybe it’s the perfect atheist film for Catholics.
This story of a dejected journalist and an unwed Irish mother searching for her stolen son is gripping in a way that action films aspire to be, largely due to the tight script and terrific chemistry between Steve Coogan and Judy Dench.
Often, at the end of a film, a few frames will inform the viewer that what they’ve just seen was based on real events. With Philomena, this tap on the shoulder occurs before the first scene, making the movie more difficult to watch, and even harder to turn away from as the story progresses.
There is honor in dogged pursuit; there is slime at the bottom of the publishing barrel. The devil finds solace in a nunnery and purity of Spirit in people who have “sinned.”
I rarely recommend movies. If you are snowed in on the East coast, or if you are ripe for a pithy, warm rotten story, go look for Philomena.
It’s on Amazon and GooglePlay.
(I’m not the only one to gush over this film. It won awards at four film festivals and was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture in 2013. Dench was nominated for best actress as well).
forever is a loaf of a book, six hundred slices in all. Read my review here: http://hub.me/aj5c4 .
Courtesy of Signature Montana Magazine
Twenty-two hundred miles from the Bears Paw Mountains, in the shadow of New York City’s wild Westside, a raised urban walkway meanders from the Meatpacking District through Chelsea–it’s called the High Line. It’s a top tourist attraction, packed with all kinds of strollers.
Like the highline that stretches from Shelby through Sweetgrass, New York’s revitalized raised rail spur provides open air, natural vistas, spiritual nourishment and a few colorful watering holes. It’s fun for this Great Falls girl to wander past daisies, wild grasses and coneflowers so far from home–there’s even a seasonal irrigation ditch where people take off their shoes and socks to cool tired city feet.
Both highlines witness the change of seasons without closure or apology; both are evidence of the enduring effort of intrepid, hardscrabble Souls–and both the the citified namesake and its Western cousin remind us that wild life and wildlife are better off when conflicting visions are managed in advance.
Real estate developers in the Big Apple didn’t take long to see potential high profits from theirHigh Line. At least NYC boasts adequate water, sewer, roads, and other infrastructure–the straining city services around the North Dakota oilfields are a cautionary tale for what could be headed to Montana’s highline.
To twist the one-liner from Field of Dreams,“If they come, we will have to build it.”
When New York City’s High Line was turned into a walking park, the neighborhood rejoiced at improved property values. A half-dozen new buildings went up, lickety-split, and four imposing structures are on the way–along with the Bakken oil field-sized Hudson Railyards, sort of a city within a city, going up on the north end.
Growth is often healthier on a trellis than when it’s allowed to sprawl: even if the shale oil fields don’t expand westward, Montana’s highline is already the railcar version of New York City’s High Line: Signature Montana readers know that grain farmers have been hootin’ and hollerin’ about untenable rail delays, and anyone who’s planning on riding Amtrak’s Empire Builder should pack a passel of patience: delays in Shelby have pushed eight hours.
It doesn’t matter which Highline you’re on: tread softly, and cock an ear to anyone who carries a big schtick.
The back cover of Nobody’s Angel has an author photo that looks scissored out, featuring Tom McGuane dead center on a photo that looks like he should have been standing off to one side, illustrative of the scale of the Big Sky.
The author is wearing one of them sweaters that’s worn only because the knitter is within shoutin’ distance. Sweaters like that, with racked bucks above the nipples, never get old: they get donated or incinerated first.
I’d never read any Thomas McGuane. I liked this guy.
Besides, the back cover blurb touted Nobody’s Angel, McGuane’s fifth novel, as his “best work yet.” Seein’ as how there were likely four worse ones, I picked it up. It was written back in 1979.
Nobody’s Angel is a dark barn of a book about a cowboy soldier who gets pulled by the backside of his Wranglers into the worst kind of high plains pathos–the kind that involves dysfunctional kinfolk.
The barn door of the book opens fine: chapter one is a shot of word whiskey. It tasted like more.
When I hit the first sentence in the second chapter, it hurt so hard I winced, grabbed my toe and hopped around, cussing:
“The yard light erect upon its wood stanchion threw down a yellow faltering glow infinitely chromatic falling through the China willow to the ground pounded up against the house by the unrepentantly useless horses.”
I have visceral reactions to writing. Malcolm Gladwell makes me want to comb my hair and clean closets. Salman Rushdie makes me want to solve mazes. Michael Chabon makes me want to rub the book between my legs. Thomas McGuane cracked the barn door, his word-hay sweet and sharp-smelling…then, dag nab it, I busted my toe on that sentence.
I read it again, you know, like slowing down when you pass an accident on the road. Then I closed the book and pushed it across the table.
Life’s short. I have lots of books to read. But hey, everyone’s entitled to a leaf of parsley stuck between his teeth. So the guy penned a self-indulgent sentence; I was still thirsty. I patted the cover and got back on.
Somewhere in the next five or six chapters, McGuane’s barn animals morphed from steaming-nostril beasts into carvings from an indoor merry-go-round. The characters, while vivid and rideable, were more about the curlicued carvings in McGuane’s tortured psyche.
I realized, about twenty chapters in, that I could give a hoot about what happened to any of ‘em. This is probably because I got my own tortured psyche to ride. I don’t need to straddle someone else’s unless it’s gonna give me a happy ending, thanks.
I lack education and foundation, and I like shlock. I may never be able to paint the vivid word pictures that McGuane spits out like so much Copenhagen. I might not even be qualified to dislike this book.
This writer’s world, my backyard, goes around and around in vivid flashes and aching blurs. When I stepped off, I was at the same place I was before I paid my $1.49. Nobody’s Angel left me a little dizzy–and mighty grateful to see the barn door.
A Time of the Signs
Great Falls is in full bloom.
From law office liberals…
to “Any Republican will do”…
until November 4th, rectangular biennials abound on Great Falls’ boulevards.
Some homeowners mix tulips with roses: this yard touts a Democrat for the Montana House and a Republican for the State Senate. Who lives here–the Lockhorns? A blatant advocate of political gridlock? A relative of one candidate, who (not so secretly) accepts the ideology of the other? A cagey voter who wants a foot in both camps, just in case?
Here’s a cheeky conservative. The homeowner on this busy one-way has an early blooming placard: along with local Republicans, he’s endorsing Joe Biden, the perceived weaker Democrat, for president. Maybe he’s going to show up at the polls a year early, just to vote for Joe.
A privacy fence can feature home-scrawled sentiment, but if you spot a hand-painted campaign sign, it ain’t gonna be from no Democrat! It’s ironic that the party that supports small business can put up signs they spray-paint in the garage, but the artsy folk across the aisle have to shell out for posters that bear the Union bug.
If your house is for sale this fall, good luck attracting attention. For Sale signs are visual flotsam amid all the campaign placards.
It takes chutzpah to put a political sign in front of a business: You won’t see signs at my office–instead of pissing people off before they come in, I prefer to alienate folks face-to-face.
Still, it’s interesting to see who supports whom, and to guess why. When a law office endorses a Supreme Court candidate, it’s hard for passers-by to tell if the decision is based on solid cross-examination or a leveraged analysis of someone’s bottom line.
The owners of this motel lean to the right; even though there’s no room in this hotel for a Democrat, he can hang out ‘on the fence.’ I’m pretty sure Norman would not have been welcome here if his last name had been Bates.
I used to have a tiny paper sign taped on my door: “Proselytizers & Politicians Unwelcome.” If I agree with you, your time is better spent convincing others. If I disagree, I hardly think I’m going to have a Come to Jesus moment on my porch, unless Jesus himself hands me a campaign brochure.
Hmm. What would the neighbors think if I put up four or five of these in my yard:
I am poking fun, but I have three good reasons to dislike yard signs. First, increased name recognition does nothing to inform. Zilch, zip, nada. Second, the presence of political signs on the yards of people we respect lessens our accountability in the voting booth (Jane likes her, she’s got to be good, right?). Third, I don’t really want to know that I am philosophically isolated in my own neighborhood. I’d rather imagine camaraderie when I smile and wave instead of envisioning the re-loading operation across the street.
This mid-term election, please ignore the signs. Consider our deeper struggles, the social and environmental issues, the state of our one-strong-rail/one-weak-rail economy, and the ability of those politicians whose signs are plastered all over town to do the job…before it’s ‘sign season’ again.
“What are you doing?”
I’m licking the chocolate off my iPhone, that’s what I’m doing.
Okay…I may have a worse problem than a melted mass inside my purse.
I’m not talking about an occasional craving for milk chocolate, the inferior portal candy of nine-year olds. I’m jonesing for the nearly uncut, organically grown stuff, dark and shiny as Denzel on a summer night.
I had to ask myself: am I an addict?
Addicts rationalize: dark chocolate has magnesium, potassium, copper and iron. You want instead I should break into the Filipowicz Brothers Salvage Yard and lick the rust off scrap metal?
Addicts make deals with deities: “I’ll eat this, but I’ll do an extra half hour on the treadmill after work.” Deities are often disappointed.
Addicts have a hierarchy of desperation: chocolate chips are dinky, candy bars are cumbersome. I spurn Mr. Hershey’s kisses. My delivery system for a premium chocolate rush? Dagoba Chocodrops.
A single packet of these bad brown boys costs almost as much as a bag of plasma. There are days I want to hang the Chocodrop pouch off an IV-cart, calibrating it to dispense 74% dark chocolate at life-sustaining intervals.
When I sought solace in the like-minded companionship of fellow self-loathers, all I found were websites that reveled in this insidious addiction–featuring recipes and quotes from Bridget Jones’ Diary. Like that helps.
Narcotics Anonymous, though, had a helpful quiz. I adapted seven questions for chocoholics:
1. Do you ever use alone?
It’s a scientific fact that chocolate tastes better alone, in front of a Lifetime TV movie.
2. Have you ever substituted one substance for another?
I still have carob flashbacks from that Missoula health-food jag I had back in 1977.
3. Have you ever stolen to obtain your substance of choice?
Attempting to rearrange remaining gift-boxed chocolates around a missing mocha truffle–does that count?
I am not mining for stale M&Ms between couch cushions. I am CLEANING.
5. Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?
This time, I tell myself, eight Chocdrops will last for an entire hour…Whoa, they’re gone! The only rational explanation? A chocolate-induced blackout.
6. Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?
None of your damn business.
7. Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?
I can’t lie because I don’t know how much I use. I’ve got a bowl in my showroom (less tempting low-grade stuff), Chocodrops in my office drawer, Green & Blacks bars in the pantry and an emergency reserve of Sunspire chocolate chips in an unreliably sealed container inside my purse.
I may be a chocoholic, but I guess I’m not anonymous anymore.
Squashing a Spring Bug
Last night I rolled over in the dark, held my breath and tilted my head toward the window. Was that a cat on my roof?
When I exhaled, there it was again: the high-pitched whine of a clogged nostril.
An hour later I woke up cowering from a World War II air-raid dream.
Buds are swelling on the honeysuckles. I need my coat in the morning, but I forget it at the office every afternoon. I’ve oiled the garden tools and doubled up the squat thrusts. Soon, it will be time to shave my legs for Spring.
I refuse to catch a cold.
Instead of running for covers, I open my medicine cabinet–nice and slow.
My secret weapon? A $3 dose of lipospheric Vitamin C that tastes so bad that I stomp one foot as I bite off the corner of the packet and guzzle the half-gelled contents by inserting the whole pouch and pulling it out out between my teeth. Instead of following instructions that prolong the unpleasantness, I deliver it, grenade style, in one swallow.
Take THAT, rhinovirus!
I’ve been eluding the creeping crud since Halloween, dodging contaminated airborne particles like automatic weapons fire. I empty trash cans with tongs and cut away from crowded aisles at the grocery store. Snotty children make me shiver. I gather my books and move my seat at the library at the the second sign of a cough.
In January, my husband got so sick that he jammed a tissue up each swollen nostril and skulked around the house imitating the Abominable Kleenex Man. I kicked him out of our bedroom for nine days.
Unlike my husband, who at least had the decency to hole up, many of the Walking Infected participate in a weird ritual of martyrdom and tribal recruitment. “I’ve been sick for three days,” one of them tells me. “I dragged myself out of bed to make this appointment.”
“Gee, thanks,” I say, disguising my recoil as a stretch.
Despite repeated confined exposure, no way am I buying NyQuil. Putting that stuff in your bathroom is like hanging a sign around your neck: “Come and get me.”
I will launch pre-emptive attacks with echinacea, garlic, zinc and Vitamin C. I will buy a homeopathic remedy with five syllables of O’s and C’s, but I will not not buy the dreaded green fluid until the pharmacist takes two steps backwards when I ask, “Where’s duh Die-kwul?”
And if there are extras from a Zombie movie in that aisle at Walgreens, I’m gonna wait it out.
LaPlante’s story didn’t germinate in my fertile mind. That could be because my brain is already partially composted.
Click on the link for the full review (it’s short).